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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 22:08 GMT
Lebanon digs up opium poppy fields
The operation was supervised by the military
Lebanese security forces have begun destroying poppy fields in the east of the country in a fresh campaign to stamp out drug production.

Bulldozers moved into fields in the Bekaa Valley around the city of Baalbek under the protection of soldiers and police.

The area became notorious for its production of opium, the source of heroin, during the 1975-90 civil war but cultivation was largely eradicated by the government in the early 1990s.

However, the failure of alternative crops to generate income for farmers has led some to begin sowing poppies again in recent years.

The new campaign comes days after Interior Minister Elias Murr pledged to destroy the crop and bring growers and dealers to justice.

About 200 personnel went to work accompanied by armoured vehicles and at least one army helicopter.

A senior police official, Brigadier-General Samir Sobh said the initial operation had begun smoothly and would last for a week.

April deadline

It is hoped to destroy about 1,250 acres of poppies in the area in addition to the 345 acres destroyed by local people just before the campaign began.

Overall, poppy plantations are thought to cover 371,000 acres of Lebanon.

Workers check field for remains of poppies
Lebanese heroin had raised its head again
Security sources told the French news agency AFP that the anti-drugs campaign would continue until 15 April.

Security forces also seized 11 bags of unspecified drugs on Tuesday, an official said.

During the civil war, opium and cannabis from the Bekaa Valley is estimated to have generated about $500m annually.

Lebanese heroin and hashish - a cannabis derivative - have been smuggled to Western Europe, North America, Australia, Israel and Egypt.

See also:

09 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Golden Triangle fills opium gap
11 Oct 98 | Middle East
Lebanon's growing drug worries
25 Feb 02 | South Asia
US drops Afghan drug sanctions
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
UN concern over Afghan drug revival
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