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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Albanian police destroy 'cannabis' crops
Albanian village
Drug trafficking is a growing problem in Albania
Albanian police have destroyed hundreds of thousands of plants donated by a British charity to poor farmers which Albanian authorities claim were cannabis.

Four farmers were arrested after police raided fields containing 400,000 plants in the town of Shkoder, 50 miles north of the Albanian capital, Tirana.

The farmers have been charged with growing illegal crops used to produce drugs and a warrant has been issued for the arrest of the head of the agricultural commune.


There has been a total misunderstanding

Mike Tyler, Partnership for Growth
The plants were donated by British charity Partnership for Growth, which aims to help economic regeneration in underdeveloped parts of Eastern Europe.

The organisation insists the crops were industrial hemp from which it is impossible to produce narcotics.

Charity spokesman Mike Tyler said: "There has been a total misunderstanding. Partnership for Growth is absolutely devastated that innocent farmers have been arrested and the crops destroyed.

"It was a co-operative project with the commune and we are doing all we can to get the suspicions lifted."

He said officials from the British embassy in Tirana are meeting Albanian authorities about the matter.

Industrial hemp can be used to produce up to 30,000 products and the charity planned to help the farmers use the crops to manufacture rugs and carpets.

The charity said the seeds had been certified by the National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control in Budapest, Hungary, and are currently being tested in 30 countries.

However, Albanian General Police Director Bilbil Mema said a police laboratory test on the plants has confirmed they were cannabis.

Drug trafficking and the cultivation of cannabis is a growing problem in Albania and police have begun destroying suspected crops.

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02 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Albania
02 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Albania
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