Source AP ©

Azerbaijan defense minister concerned over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Unresolved dispute over the Armenian-controlled territory of Nagorno-Karabakh could easily spark a new war, Azerbaijan's defense minister said Tuesday.

Safar Abiyev's remark was a startling worded repetition of warnings from Azerbaijani officials that they have not ruled out the use of force to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas if internationally mediated settlement efforts fail.

"As long as Azerbaijani territory is occupied by Armenia, the chance of war is close to 100 percent," Abiyev said during a meeting in Kazakhstan of defense chiefs from former Soviet republics.

Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territory that is also part of Azerbaijan have been controlled by Armenian and ethnic Armenian forces since a shaky 1994 cease-fire ended one of the bloodiest conflicts that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The six-year war killed 30,000 people and drove more than 1 million from their homes, including many of the region's ethnic Azeris.

Azerbaijan and Armenia remain locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh despite more than a decade of coaxing from international mediators led by the United States, Russia and France to resolve the region's status.

Gunfire breaks out regularly along the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia and in the regions near Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian Defense Minister Mikhail Arutyunian said he sees no alternative to a peaceful settlement, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.