Azerbaijan is seriously preparing for war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh, the country's defence minister told international peace mediators in Baku on Friday.
"Azerbaijan is seriously preparing to liberate its territories," Safar Abiyev said in comments published by the ministry's press service.
This is not the first occasion that a top Azerbaijani official has used bellicose rhetoric over a possible new conflict.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to use force to win back Karabakh if peace talks do not yield results, while Armenia has warned of large-scale retaliation if Baku launches military action.
Abiyev said that Armenia must end what he called its "occupation policy" in Karabakh, where ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control from Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s that left an estimated 30,000 dead.
"Only in this context is a peaceful settlement of the conflict possible," the defence minister said.
The separatist Karabakh defence ministry responded to Abiyev's comments with a declaration that Armenian troops were training constantly to repel any attempt by Azerbaijan to seize the region back.
Karabakh Armenian forces were ready "if necessary, to ensure that any encroachment by the enemy meets with adequate retaliation," a separatist defence ministry spokesman said in comments reported by Interfax.
The Azerbaijani defence minister was speaking to peace mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose efforts to find a negotiated solution to the Karabakh dispute have continued for more than a decade.
Abiyev said that Azerbaijan had not yet given up hope that the mediators' efforts could succeed, despite the lack of progress so far.
A leading think tank warned this week that increased spending on weapons, escalating frontline clashes, warlike rhetoric and a virtual breakdown in peace talks were increasing the chances of renewed military action over Karabakh.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said that exchanges of fire across the ceasefire line could spiral out of control, threatening regional stability and Western energy interests in the region.