New clashes dash hopes of end to fighting on Azerbaijan-Armenia border

A police officer guards a yard with an unexploded shell, next to a house, which locals say was damaged during recent shelling by Armenian forces, Agdam, Azerbaijan, July 15, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 July 2020

New clashes dash hopes of end to fighting on Azerbaijan-Armenia border

  • At least 16 people on both sides have been killed since clashes erupted on Sunday between the ex-Soviet republics
  • The fighting is centered on the northern regions of Tovuz in Azerbaijan and Tavush in Armenia

YEREVAN, Armenia: New clashes erupted Thursday on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia following a day-long lull, dashing hopes of a rapid end to a flare-up in fighting.
At least 16 people on both sides have been killed since clashes erupted on Sunday between the ex-Soviet republics, who have been locked for decades in a conflict over Azerbaijan’s southwestern separatist region of Nagorny Karabakh.
Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the territory in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives, though the recent fighting broke out on a section of the two countries’ shared border far from Karabakh.
The fighting is centered on the northern regions of Tovuz in Azerbaijan and Tavush in Armenia, and local villagers told AFP they feared for their lives.
“An artillery shell hit our yard, 10 meters from the house,” resident Shain Abiyev said in the Azerbaijani village of Dondar Quscu near the border.
“Fortunately my family was not at home, but if they had been in the house there would have been a tragedy.”
The clashes broke out on Sunday, with the two sides exchanging artillery and mortar fire for three days until a pause on Wednesday after international calls for restraint.
The two countries’ defense ministries said shelling had resumed in the early hours of Thursday, with both sides blaming each other.
Armenian defense ministry spokeswoman Sushan Stepanyan said Azerbaijani forces were “shelling Armenian villages with mortars and howitzers” in Tavush.
Armenian forces responded and “destroyed the enemy’s tank and artillery positions from which they were shelling Armenian villages,” Stepanyan said.
“We are in control of the situation,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a cabinet meeting, saying there were “killed and wounded among the enemy” but “no losses among our servicemen or civilians.”
The defense ministry in Baku blamed Armenian forces for the renewed fighting, saying in a statement that clashes started in the north after “Armenians shelled Azerbaijani villages with large-calibre weapons.”
The fighting that broke out last week has prompted calls for an immediate de-escalation from the United States, the European Union and regional powerbroker Russia. Turkey has spoken out in support of its ally Azerbaijan.
Eleven Azerbaijani troops and one civilian have been killed in the clashes, as well as four Armenian soldiers, according to the two countries.
The last time major fighting erupted between the two was in April 2016, with days of fierce combat in Karabakh that claimed more than 100 lives.
It is unclear what ignited this summer’s flare-up, but analysts say it could have been a small incident like a cross-border shooting that quickly escalated.
Olesya Vartanyan, senior South Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, said a major confrontation would draw in big regional players.
“Any direct attack at the territory of Armenia or Azerbaijan can provoke — with a high probability — an intervention of one of the regional powers, particularly Turkey or Russia,” she told AFP.
But she said it seemed unlikely the crisis would escalate, as neither side has territorial claims on northern border areas and the fighting had not spread to Karabakh itself.
Talks to resolve the Karabakh dispute — one of the worst conflicts to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union — have been largely stalled since a 1994 cease-fire agreement.
France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the “Minsk Group,” but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.
Flush from years of oil revenues, energy-rich Azerbaijan has invested heavily in its military and repeatedly vowed to retake Karabakh by force. The Turkic-speaking country is firmly backed by main ally Ankara.
Armenia has said it will defend Karabakh, which has declared its independence but relies heavily on Yerevan.
Moscow is also a key military ally of Armenia and has a base in the country, though it has supplied both Baku and Yerevan with sophisticated weapons.

Sweet dreams: Malaysia’s stingless bee honey creates a buzz in Mideast

Updated 59 min 18 sec ago

Sweet dreams: Malaysia’s stingless bee honey creates a buzz in Mideast

  • Exports worth $130,000 in the past two years as taste for superfood grows

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s honey farmers are tapping into nectar from stingless bees to export the product around the world, including the Middle East, which has seen a spike in demand following its discovery as a potential superfood.

“We discovered stingless bee farming and its potential through government-promoted courses, so we decided to enrol in the day course because we were told that stingless bee farming was lucrative,” native Bornean Anis Januis, 54, told Arab News.

Anis and his wife, Salmah Singa, 52, began bee farming in 2015. Five years on, they have expanded their Nikmah Trigona Farm business to nine farms.

Before starting his sweet journey, Anis ran a chicken farm, owned a restaurant and set up a sundry store.

“None of them took off, but the stingless bee farm was a big success for my family and me,” Anis said.

With over 2,000 stingless bee hives on his nine farms, Anis can extract nearly one tonne of honey each month.

“It is lucrative because we generate revenues of about $18,867 monthly and with that income I opened up my honey-processing factory,” he said, adding that the products meet international standards.

“We are working on our halal certification, and health and safety certification, because it would be a dream for me to export my honey abroad,” Anis said.

Though small, the honey bee plays a big role in the Earth’s ecosystem.

Bees are responsible for pollinating nearly three-quarters of crops that produce 90 percent of the world’s food supply and can thrive in both natural and domesticated environments.

However, recently, stingless bees, a lesser-known cousin of the honey bee, have proved themselves a strong contender in the honey industry.

Regular consumption of stingless bee honey is said to provide anti-aging benefits, as it is rich in antioxidants, enhances immunity and has antiseptic qualities.

The stingless bees, or meliponines, also have stingers, but they are not used by the bees for defense, making it easier to care for them.

Recognizing the sustainable potential of stingless bee farming, the Malaysia Farmers Organisation Authority (FOA) extended support to smaller and medium-sized businesses that want to enter the agricultural sector.

“The FOA works in tandem with other agencies and departments to ensure that farmers receive the best input and services,” Azulita Salim, director-general of the FOA, told Arab News.

In November last year, Malaysia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries rolled out the decade-long National Kelulut Honey Industry Plan and attracted 717 entrepreneurs to the industry.

With Malaysia able to produce 133 tonnes of honey annually, the ministry wants industry players remain internationally competitive.

Malaysia’s export to the West Asian region suffered a massive blow this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Malaysia’s External Trade Development Corporation, the country exported honey products worth $472,534 between January and June this year.

In 2019 alone, Malaysia exported $976,605 worth of honey around the world.

In the Middle East, Malaysia’s honey exports stood at $79,589 and $49,068, respectively, in 2018 and 2019.

However, trade numbers declined this year because of border and import shutdowns sanctioned by countries after the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Statistics show that in 2018, Malaysia exported honey worth $20,021 to countries in the region between January and June, but recorded zero exports in the same period this year.