Pubdate: Tue, 23 Jul 2002
Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon)
Author: Cilina Nasser
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


A truck rolled through the middle of a green field in Douris, leaving 
behind a brown path as 70 centimeter-tall cannabis plants were either 
smashed or bent to the ground.

After a considerable part of the approximately 150-dunum field was 
transformed into a mainly brown area, several shabbily clothed peasants 
were seen working.

Asked if it was the family's land, a young woman worker, her mouth and nose 
covered by a piece of cloth to protect against the plants' intoxicating 
effects, said: "No, we're workers." "The government is paying us LL10,000 
per day to do that," she said, uprooting a plant with her rough hands.

Brigadier Samir Sobh, commander of the Judicial Police, told The Daily Star 
that the workers were charged with destroying plants that were only bent, 
having escaped being demolished by trucks.

The government, he told reporters, has allotted LL300 million to the second 
part of a campaign to eradicate illegal crops.

The money for the cannabis phase, which started Monday, would go to workers 
and owners of more than 200 trucks rented on a daily basis for LL110,000. 
Sobh explained that the authorities were working on 13 sectors, of which 12 
were in Baalbek- Hermel and one in the remote areas of the North. "We will 
eradicate hashish plants on 60,000 dunums or 6,000 hectares in the Bekaa 
and 450 dunums in the North," Sobh said, leading 10 journalists through 
Douris and Kneisseh, two sites in which the removal of cannabis plants was 

In the first phase, from December to February, the government eliminated 8 
million square meters of opium crops with only LL35 million. The Office for 
Combating Drugs, which is headed by Colonel Michel Shakkour, recently 
conducted a study on the best methods to remove the plants.

One such method was by spraying pesticides, although the campaigners 
decided against a chemical solution.

Such a method, Sobh said, "would stop the growth of any plant for three 
months. We, therefore, preferred this way of eradication," in reference to 
the uprooting of cannabis by trucks and workers.

Between 700-800 Gendarmerie members and around 1,000 Lebanese Army 
personnel are taking part in the current campaign and ensuring that the 
one-month process is carried out smoothly.

They are supported by some 1,500 soldiers from the Syrian Army.

With the prevailing attitudes in Baalbek-Hermel combined with a clash 
between the Jaafar family and the Lebanese Army over the eradication of 
cannabis plants, there were concerns of friction.

But these fears were brushed aside by Sobh. "We do not expect the 
occurrence of clashes because the Municipalities Ministry has launched a 
guidance campaign in cooperation with the governors, qaimaqams, mayors and 
mukhtars." He said all the dignitaries of local families "responded 
positively" to the government's requests. "In some villages, people removed 
the hashish they grew themselves," he said. Kfardan was one such village.

A man from the Zeaiter family who refused to give his full name cleared 
150,000 dunums Sunday, a day before the start of the campaign.

"It was like you are burning yourself.

Imagine that you are crushing your own property by your own hands," he told 
The Daily Star. Zeaiter and other local cannabis growers held a meeting 
with the mukhtar of the village. "We decided to eradicate the hashish 
ourselves," he continued, "to send a message to the government that we 
abide by its decisions." Nevertheless, he stressed that the people of the 
Bekaa had the ability to fight the Lebanese authorities, but that they 
would not do so. "Three of the (Lebanese) Army patrol in the plain of the 
village are from here - You cannot engage in clashes with them. "They say 
that they understand our suffering but that they have orders to oversee the 
eradication of hashish?"

But Zeaiter lashed out at the government for not removing the plants 
earlier. "Instead, the government waited until we spent all this money 
growing them," he said, explaining that cannabis was planted in March. 
Zeaiter, and many others like him, had to pay for the cultivation of the 
land, which had to be tilled three times before its harvest in September. 
He already tilled it twice, paying LL10,000 each time for his 150,000 dunums.

He then had to water the crops, using 60 liters of diesel for each hour the 
generator drew water from the over 180-meter-deep well. Every 20 liters of 
diesel cost LL8,000 for a crop that needed to be irrigated three or four times.

Zeaiter, who used to grow opium and cannabis crops during the civil war, 
said this March was the first time he resumed growing cannabis since the 
first government crackdown more than 10 years ago.

"They haven't provided any alternative crop since - I couldn't wait any 
longer, especially after the government stopped supporting the sugar beet," 
he said in reference to the closure two years ago of a factory that bought 
sugar beets from farmers in Majdal Anjar. But Sobh said he had raised the 
issue of alternative crops earlier this year at the Vienna International 
Center, which houses a United Nations agency that fights drugs. "They 
adopted the issue, but we are waiting for the financial assistance - We 
feel for the farmers, and we know that poverty and need lead to the growing 
of such crops."
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager