Lebanon hash farmers battle police, army to save crops

Hend El-Behary , Sunday 5 Aug 2012

Farmers in the Bekaa valley open fire on security forces to prevent them carrying out a new government campaign to eradicate their cannabis fields, the area's major moneymaker

An agricultural worker inspects his crops of cannabis in a field in the Bekaa Valley (Photo: Reuters)

Farmers in Lebanon's Bekaa valley are resisting a government campaign to destroy their cannabis crops, fighting armed battles with Lebanese police and military, the country's state-run National News Agency (NNA) reported.

Lebanon's government launched a campaign to eradicate the Bekaa's cannabis fields last Monday. 
Clashes between farmers and police have involved submachine guns, with at least three officers wounded, according to the Saudi-based Al-Arabiya news network.
Farmers also blocked the entrance to a local village, Yammouneh, with burning tyres. Protesters there reportedly attacked Lebanese troops but were dispersed when the army shot in the air.
The growing of cannabis is officially outlawed in Lebanon but has long bean a major source of income in the Bekaa valley. Farmers have called for compensation if their crops are destroyed. 
“We will continue the protests until the state provides us with an alternative,” Mohamed Sherif, the mayor of Yammouneh told NNA. 
Sherif said that security forces should refrain from attacking their crops if they did not wish to be in danger. He also called on Lebanese politicians to visit the region and observe living conditions.
“We don’t aim to fight security bodies but we will defend our main source of income," said Joesef Selim, a protester.
Lebanon is one of the world's leading growers of cannabis, with production centred in the Bekaa Valley.
During Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, the fertile valley bordering Syria produced up to 1,000 metric tons of cannabis resin per year. It also gew 30-50 metric
tonnes of opium, used to make heroin.
The trade blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business until a United Nations campaign at attempted to stamp it out in the early 1990s. It later reemerged.
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