Pubdate: Sat, 04 Aug 2012
Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)
Copyright: 2012 The Daily Star
Author: Rakan Al-Fakih


BEIRUT: A sit-in by residents of Yammouneh in east Lebanon thwarted
attempts by authorities Saturday to carry on with their crackdown on
cannabis fields in the area.

A worker involved in the eradication program was also wounded Saturday
when unidentified gunmen fired at the van where he and his colleagues
were on board.

With burning tires, boulders and vehicles, residents of Yammouneh
blocked the three entrances to the village, preventing access to
tractors tasked with felling the cannabis fields in the area.

The residents, which included women, children and the elderly, also
held a peaceful sit-in, erecting a tent on the road.

"The government is responsible for what is happening," read one sign
carried by a boy.

Yammouneh Mayor Mohammad Shrif, who took part in the sit-in, said the
residents stood by the Lebanese Army and the police, stating that "we,
the army, police and Islamic resistance [Hezbollah] form the bulwark
of our nation."

Shrif said the sit-in was aimed at raising the issue of residents'
demands for a decent living "because we are not killers or

A series of incidents have obstructed the work of authorities trying
to destroy cannabis fields in the area. An Army major and lieutenant
were wounded Friday when a joint force came under fire by farmers in
the Yammouneh area, a security source said. Two policemen were also
wounded earlier Friday when gunmen shot at a police station near the
Baalbek Serail, according to another security source.

On Saturday, Unidentified individuals shot at a group of workers on
their way to fell the cannabis fields in Hawsh Barada, Baalbek,
wounding one of them.

Fifty-seven-year-old Hussein Nayef Slim, who was shot twice in the
waist, was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

The van in which he and his colleagues were in was struck with 15

At one of the entrances of Yammouneh Saturday, the Lebanese Army fired
shots in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters.

However, the residents held their ground and continued blocking
tractors from passing through.

Negotiations between Lieut. Col. Elias Zeaiter, the head of Office for
Drug Control in the Bekaa, and the residents also failed to end the

Shrif said farmers had turned to the plantation of cannabis because
past demands had not been met.

"There are demands that need to be mentioned, particularly that had
they been met at the time, turning toward growing cannabis might not
have occurred," he said.

"In this regard we ask President Michel Sleiman: 'what has become of the 
project to build the Yammouneh damn which would have helped residents in 
their livelihoods and created job opportunities?" he asked.

He said the plan had not materialized. Even worse, he said, "the
project has receded to such an extent that the lake has now turned
into a pond full of bacteria and disease."

He urged the Lebanese president to help the project "see the light of

Abou Ali Shrif, who spoke on behalf of the residents, said authorities
needed to take into account "the seriousness of this stage and to see
the conditions of the protesting citizens who since 1995 were promised
alternative crops."

"Where are they [crops]?" he asked.

Shrif said the residents were not standing in the face of the Army and
police but said "MPs need to come here and carry out the operation

Around 35,000 dunams (8,600 acres) in the northern Bekaa are believed
to be used for the cultivation of cannabis, which has long flourished
in the fertile valley.

The total area of cannabis fields eradicated in the Bekka and
elsewhere thus far in the ongoing operation has reached 6615 dunams,
the ISF said in a statement Thursday.
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