Yammouneh Rises: Hashish is Our Livelihood

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A soldier and a policeman secure a field as a man uses a tractor to uproot hashish plants in Boday village, near Baalbak city, 23 July 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Ahmed Shalha)

By: Rameh Hamieh

Published Saturday, August 4, 2012

Clashes erupted yesterday in the town of Yammouneh in the Bekaa valley between local hashish farmers and security forces. The farmers in the largely marginalized region are fiercely defending their crops as they are their only source of income.

Security forces charged with destroying hashish crops in Baalbak-Hermel in the northern Bekaa had another rough day. So did the residents of the town of Yammouneh.

The townspeople stayed in their homes from early in the morning following violent clashes between hash farmers and the eradication force.

Hash farmers decided to “defend their livelihoods” using all necessary means, including light and medium weapons. “We will continue the confrontation until they stop destroying,” they say.

At the same time, it seems that the security forces are determined to destroy the fields of illegal crops at any price.

Threats and warnings from hash growers became explicit yesterday morning. Forces from the Central Office of Drug Control, Internal Security Forces, and the Lebanese Army, accompanied with tractors were heading towards the town of Yammouneh to destroy its hash crops through the Deir al-Ahmar - Ainata road.

The forces were hit by an explosive device placed on the side of the main road in al-Eyara district near the town of al-Mchitieh. Three B7 rockets were fired by gunmen hiding in the trees on a surrounding hillside.

An army major was wounded in the neck and an army personnel carrier was damaged, a security source told Al-Akhbar.

Simultaneously, armed men in two Jeeps attacked the police and judiciary police stations in Baalbak. They fired light weapons and PKM medium caliber machine guns. Two policemen standing at the entrance were injured – ISF First Adjutant AA was hit in the neck and Sergeant MR was struck in the legs and waist.

The assailants escaped and the two injured policemen were taken to a nearby hospital where “their conditions are medically stable,” according to medical sources.

Some of the tractor owners who were part of the eradication force decided not to continue. Several managed to leave while others were forced to remain by security forces.

Lebanese army reinforcements arrived at the scene of the roadside bomb and then the combined forces headed towards Yammouneh. When they reached the town, fierce clashes erupted between the army and hash farmers.

The battle lasted for 45 minutes and saw the use of light and medium weapons, in addition to B7 rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rockets. A Lebanese army soldier was injured and taken to a hospital in the area.

Another bomb exploded under a bridge inside the town, damaging a tractor. A large bulldozer intended for destroying the crops was hit by a mortar round.

As the clashes continued, clouds of smoke appeared over the town of Dar al-Wasea, overlooking Yammouneh. The fire resulted from several rockets that fell in the forest outside the town.

Civil Defense firefighters arrived promptly to put out the fire, which was spreading fast due to the dry grass and strong wind.

Due to the strength of the attack, the security force was stopped at the northeastern entrance of Yammouneh.

The army brought in additional reinforcements and closed off the town from the Ainata - Deir al-Ahmar and the Dar al-Wasea - Shlifa sides. It then proceeded to initiate negotiations with the farmers.

“The situation is extremely dangerous,” a security source told Al-Akhbar. “We were told of large numbers of armed men inside the town and the surrounding hillsides. More than 200 people are equipped with medium weapons in order to stop the security forces from destroying the hash.”

Following several hours of negotiations, an agreement was reached by mid-morning to allow a “limited” operation to wipe several fields on the outskirts of Yammouneh. Two army helicopters flew over the hillsides, chasing some of the attackers and armed men.

Meanwhile in the town of Yammouneh, the streets have been empty since the morning. Residents remained at home following instructions from the farmers through loudspeakers warning them not to move around for safety reasons.

A town official confirmed the “failure of attempts to calm things down.” The farmers are furious about attempts to destroy their fields, considered this their “livelihood source.”

“The farmers warned their families so as to keep them safe from harm,” he said. The town residents disclosed the presence of “almost 500 armed men, mostly from Baalbak-Hermel villages, in Yammouneh and Dar al-Wasea. They are here to prevent the destruction of our livelihoods and our children’s sustenance.”

Tracked army vehicles had already begun destroying some hash fields. They were followed by members of the drug office, the ISF, and the tractors.

The Yammouneh source said that one of the main conditions of the agreement that allowed the destruction of the crops was that “the Central Office of Drug Control and the tractors stay out of the operation and that it is conducted by the army.”

He stressed that, beginning today, “there will no longer be any hash eradications operations at all... Yesterday, we were generous. But today, we will not allow them to destroy what we had toiled for.”

“We might allow them to do so if they paid the farmers compensation for the loss of their income. Stop taking people for fools with all the talk about alternative crops or alternative agricultural policies,” he elaborated on the subject.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, a security source maintained that the eradication operation will continue without confirming whether it will include the fields of Yammouneh and Dar al-Wasea.

He explained that “collected information shows that the armed men in both towns are ready for a fierce confrontation by all means at their disposal.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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