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Berri: Army to implement crackdown in Bekaa soon

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is seen in Ain al-Tineh in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Monday the Lebanese Army will deploy in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley region soon in an attempt to bolster security in an area notorious for kidnappings, drug cultivation and tribal vendettas. He also called for the permanent deployment of Army units in the Bekaa even if this required withdrawing troops from south Lebanon.

Berri’s call came ahead of a long-awaited security plan to be carried out by the Lebanese Army in the Bekaa to crack down on criminals and outlaws and arrest more than 30,000 wanted people according to police warrants.However, the Bekaa’s tribal leaders warned that implementation of the Army’s plan without the approval of a general amnesty draft law for wanted people would lead to an armed clash between security forces and the region’s residents.

Addressing a delegation of heads of the Bekaa’s clans, notables and mukhtars as well as Baalbek’s MPs during a luncheon he hosted at his residence in Ain al-Tineh, Berri said he had consulted with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and Hezbollah officials on the need for the Army to be deployed permanently in the Bekaa region.

“The security plan to be implemented in the Bekaa should not be limited to a timeline. Security forces should be present in the region permanently even if that required withdrawing soldiers from the south,” Berri said.

“The crime in the Bekaa and throughout Lebanon, particularly the organized crime, is a conspiracy against liberation,” Berri said. “Therefore, you will see in the near future Army units and security forces from your sons deploying in all parts of the Bekaa in order to consolidate security and strike with an iron fist against anyone who tries to consider the Bekaa beyond the state’s authority.”

Berri said the Army’s security plan in the Bekaa should be accompanied by the implementation of development projects and public services to the region which has for decades been neglected by the government.

The Army’s expected plan comes following a string of kidnappings in the Bekaa that have raised regional and international concerns of a deteriorating security situation in a country already suffering from the repercussions of the conflict in neighboring Syria.

It also comes following a successful Army security dragnet in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, that led to the arrest of the kidnappers of Syrian and Turkish citizens and the release of the kidnap victims last month.

Berri rejected labeling the Bekaa as a region for outlaws, kidnappings, vendetta crimes and drug dealing. He said the region’s residents along with residents of the northern district of Akkar constituted the backbone of the Lebanese Army and security forces. He added that the Bekaa’s residents also served as the backbone for the resistance against Israel.

“Why do we now only hear news about vendetta crimes, kidnappings and drug smuggling in the Bekaa? Why should we deprive the area of development projects?” Berri asked.

Berri said of the more than 32,000 arrest warrants to be pursued by the Army and security forces, 20,000 of these dealt with different offenses while the rest pertained to crimes of drug dealing, kidnappings and vendettas.

“We shouldn’t let the dark side of the region triumph over its bright side ... You are the ones that want the state, rather than being wanted by it,” Berri said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the delegation of clans and families in the Baalbek-Hermel region warned of the consequences of implementing the Army’s plan before Parliament approves a general amnesty draft law for wanted people in the Bekaa.

They said that the government’s decades-long neglect of the region, including the absence of development projects, were behind the state of insecurity.

Rashed Jaafar, of the clan chiefs who attended the meeting at Berri’s residence, said the speaker insisted on implementing the security plan in the Bekaa despite demands by tribal leaders to postpone it until an amnesty draft law has been approved by Parliament.

According to Jaafar, Berri said that a previous amnesty law did not prevent crimes in the Bekaa, noting that it was difficult to approve new legislation now because several political parties in Parliament oppose it.

A number of clan chiefs and notables rejected Berri’s stance and warned that implementation of the Army’s plan without the approval of an amnesty draft law would lead to an armed clash between security forces and the region’s residents and probably to the death of people on both sides, Jaafar said.

The Army’s plan came a few months after security forces, backed by troops, launched a campaign to destroy the Bekaa’s cannabis fields, prompting clashes with farmers who opposed the measure. – Additional reporting by Rakan al-Fakih

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 16, 2012, on page 1.

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