Lebanese marijuana farmers fight security forces

BEIRUT Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:39am EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Farmers armed with machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars forced government troops to abandon an operation to destroy their illegal cannabis crop in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Monday, a witness said.

No casualties were reported in the exchange of fire but two security force vehicles were hit by bullets, the witness said.

During Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, the fertile Bekaa Valley produced up to 1,000 metric tons (1.1023 * 1000 tons) of cannabis resin annually and 30 to 50 metric tons of opium, used to make heroin.

The crop was eradicated under a United Nations program between 1991-1993 but it has reemerged as the security forces struggle to control the volatile country. There are no reliable statistics on how much cannabis is produced in Lebanon now.

Security forces run operations to destroy annual marijuana crops but face resistance from angry farmers who see the lucrative and easy-to-grow crop as a way to make money for their impoverished community.

A security source said government forces were regrouping and planning a new operation to destroy the crop.

(Reporting by Afif Diab; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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