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10 tonnes of drugs seized in Europe’s ‘cannabis capital’

June 19, 2014

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Lazarat: Albanian police enter this lawless village, 230kms south of capital Tirana, 
in a hunt for drug traffickers.—AP
Lazarat: Albanian police enter this lawless village, 230kms south of capital Tirana, in a hunt for drug traffickers.—AP

TIRANA: More than 10 tonnes of marijuana have been seized or destroyed in an Albanian village known as Europe’s cannabis capital, where gun battles between police and traffickers continued for a third day on Wednesday.

Police have been laying siege to the village of Lazarat since Monday, when an operation to destroy a huge drugs stockpile was repelled by heavy weapons fire, including anti-tank missiles and grenades.

Some 800 police officers, wearing bulletproof vests and backed by armoured vehicles, were deployed around the village on Wednesday after sporadic clashes overnight.

The traffickers remain barricaded in several houses in the centre of the village, some 240 kilometres south of Tirana, and were continuing to shoot from kalashnikovs on security forces.

On Tuesday, one officer and two civilians were wounded in gun battles.

Witnesses on the scene said that many villagers had burned cannabis plants to destroy evidence against them before they fled the village on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a police spokeswoman said that security forces have taken control of a large part of the village and that the operation was ongoing.

Lazarat produces about 900 tonnes of cannabis annually, according to police, worth some 4.5 billion euros ($6.1bn) — equivalent to almost half of Albania’s gross domestic product. With a population of 2,200, it has become a fiefdom of cannabis production where thousands of seasonal workers from all across the Balkan country arrive to work in cannabis fields.

Albania is Europe’s leading cannabis producer despite efforts by authorities, which claim to destroy between 90,000 and 130,000 cannabis plants every year.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2014