Pubdate: Wed, 01 Aug 2012
Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)
Copyright: 2012 The Daily Star
Author: Rakan al-Fakih


HERMEL, Lebanon: The Internal Security Forces Tuesday postponed its 
plan to destroy cannabis fields in Hermel after failing to secure the 
required number of bulldozers needed to carry out the operation.

The plan was put on hold after bulldozer owners in the region refused 
to rent their machinery to the police out of fear they would be 
targeted by the drug cultivators.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning a large number of ISF units 
headed to Hermel, accompanied by the Central Office of Drug Control, 
and waited for the bulldozers to arrive so they could commence the operation.

The Lebanese Army accompanied the ISF units Tuesday, but they were 
surprised by the latter's inability to secure the necessary 
bulldozers. The aborted operation comes more than a month before 
harvesting season in September.

Many of the bulldozer owners told the ISF they feared losing their 
vehicles if they cooperated with the police, as evidenced by what 
took place on the outskirts of Baalbek last week.

During a similar crackdown last week in Boudai, fighting ensued 
between the ISF and locals, leaving one policeman lightly hurt and 
two police vehicles damaged. Armed men also smashed tractors as their 
drivers returned from the action in Boudai. The National News Agency 
said 15 tractors were attacked in Ain al-Sawda, and the drivers said 
their attackers warned them against taking part in the crackdown.

In Hermel Tuesday the forces on the ground decided to delay the 
operation to avoid confrontations between prominent families in the area.

A security source told The Daily Star the operation would be 
postponed for two days, allowing sufficient time to secure bulldozers 
from elsewhere.

The source also said that only two bulldozers were secured Tuesday 
morning, a number far from what is needed to eradicate the cannabis crop.

Farmers and their relatives in the region have reacted strongly to 
the ISF's cannabis eradication campaign.

Last week they blocked roads in the Sharawneh and Tel Abyad 
neighborhoods of Baalbek and in Boudai with burning tires, accusing 
Col. Adel Mashmoushi, head of the CODC, and the Cabinet of depriving 
them of their main source of income.

The farmers argue that the area has been poor and marginalized for 
decades, and attempts to offer substitute crops for cannabis have not 
been sufficient.

Cannabis has long flourished in the fertile Bekaa Valley. Although 
the government banned the plant in 1992 and began annual campaigns to 
destroy it, farmers continue to grow the crop.

Campaigns to encourage farmers to switch to other crops such as 
sunflowers, saffron and tobacco have been unsuccessful, as the crops 
proved either unsuited to the local environs or not as profitable as cannabis.
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