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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Armenians Shot Plane, Says Iran

NICOSIA -- Iran said Monday that the Iranian plane that came down over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave earlier this month had been shot down by Armenian forces.

The plane, which had been flying from Moscow to Tehran "exploded in mid air over Karabakh after being hit by a missile fired by Armenian troops based in the region shortly after the plane had contacted the Yerevan control tower," Iran's official news agency IRNA said, quoting a foreign ministry statement.

Iranian television, reporting the same statement, spoke of the plane's "forced change of course and the failure of control towers in the region to help its navigation" among factors which led to the disaster. It did not elaborate.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right to take legal action...and receive compensation for the victims of the crash, and calls on the Armenian government to identify and punish those guilty of downing the aircraft," the ministry said.

The plane, a military Hercules C-130, had been carrying a number of relatives of Iranian diplomats based in Moscow. They were going home for the Iranian New Year when the plane crashed near Karabakh's capital Stepanakert on March 17. All 32 people on board died.

IRNA said the statement was based on the report of a team of experts Iran had sent to the site to investigate the crash.

"Those trying to fan the flame of war and heighten tension in the region should bear the consequences of such painful incidents," it quoted the statement as saying.

Karabakh, which is inside Azerbaijan and ruled by Baku but has a majority of Armenians, has been at the center of an undeclared war between the two ex-Soviet republics for the past six years. Thousands have died in fighting.

"This bitter incident is a clear proof of the tense situation in Karabakh which endangers the lives of innocent people and those of foreign nationals," the Iranian statement said.

Forces from both sides in and around Karabakh have anti-aircraft missiles. Several aircraft have been shot down in the conflict and at least one civilian plane had been hit by shellfire before the Iranian crash.

Iran last week denied a report by Itar-Tass quoting an expert as saying that the plane was on a spying mission.