BEIRUT: A sit-in by residents of Yammouneh in east Lebanon thwarted attempts by authorities Saturday to carry on with their crackdown on cannabis fields in the area.
A worker involved in the eradication program was also wounded Saturday when unidentified gunmen fired at the van where he and his colleagues were on board.
With burning tires, boulders and vehicles, residents of Yammouneh blocked the three entrances to the village, preventing access to tractors tasked with felling the cannabis fields in the area.
The residents, which included women, children and the elderly, also held a peaceful sit-in, erecting a tent on the road.
“The government is responsible for what is happening,” read one sign carried by a boy.
Yammouneh Mayor Mohammad Shrif, who took part in the sit-in, said the residents stood by the Lebanese Army and the police, stating that “we, the army, police and Islamic resistance [Hezbollah] form the bulwark of our nation.”
Shrif said the sit-in was aimed at raising the issue of residents’ demands for a decent living “because we are not killers or troublemakers.”
A series of incidents have obstructed the work of authorities trying to destroy cannabis fields in the area. An Army major and lieutenant were wounded Friday when a joint force came under fire by farmers in the Yammouneh area, a security source said. Two policemen were also wounded earlier Friday when gunmen shot at a police station near the Baalbek Serail, according to another security source.
On Saturday, Unidentified individuals shot at a group of workers on their way to fell the cannabis fields in Hawsh Barada, Baalbek, wounding one of them.
Fifty-seven-year-old Hussein Nayef Slim, who was shot twice in the waist, was transported to a local hospital for treatment.
The van in which he and his colleagues were in was struck with 15 bullets.
At one of the entrances of Yammouneh Saturday, the Lebanese Army fired shots in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters.
However, the residents held their ground and continued blocking tractors from passing through.
Negotiations between Lieut. Col. Elias Zeaiter, the head of Office for Drug Control in the Bekaa, and the residents also failed to end the sit-in.
Shrif said farmers had turned to the plantation of cannabis because past demands had not been met.
“There are demands that need to be mentioned, particularly that had they been met at the time, turning toward growing cannabis might not have occurred,” he said.
“In this regard we ask President Michel Sleiman: ‘what has become of the project to build the Yammouneh damn which would have helped residents in their livelihoods and created job opportunities?” he asked.
He said the plan had not materialized. Even worse, he said, “the project has receded to such an extent that the lake has now turned into a pond full of bacteria and disease.”
He urged the Lebanese president to help the project “see the light of day.”
Abou Ali Shrif, who spoke on behalf of the residents, said authorities needed to take into account “the seriousness of this stage and to see the conditions of the protesting citizens who since 1995 were promised alternative crops.”
“Where are they [crops]?” he asked.
Shrif said the residents were not standing in the face of the Army and police but said “MPs need to come here and carry out the operation themselves.”
Around 35,000 dunams (8,600 acres) in the northern Bekaa are believed to be used for the cultivation of cannabis, which has long flourished in the fertile valley.
The total area of cannabis fields eradicated in the Bekka and elsewhere thus far in the ongoing operation has reached 6615 dunams, the ISF said in a statement Thursday.