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Lebanon: Government Reports Success In Drug Control

Drugs seized in Lebanon (file photo) (Courtesy Photo) Lebanon was once a major source of opium and hashish -- it reportedly can be traced to the Ottoman era, and cultivation increased seriously during the civil war that began in 1975 and as government control in the northern Bekaa Valley deteriorated. But in 1990, Lebanese and Syrian military forces in the country began a concerted effort to eliminate narcotics production, apparently with some success.

The United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention's "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2001" noted that estimated cannabis trafficking fell sharply from 1994 to 1999. In 2005, according to statistics provided to RFE/RL by the Directorate General of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, 273.6 square meters of opium poppies and 641.9 square meters of cannabis plants were destroyed.

Lebanon used to export hashish to Europe and the Persian Gulf. Now it is an importer of drugs, mainly cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as heroin from Turkey and Afghanistan.

The "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report -- 2005" from the U.S. State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs asserts that Lebanon is neither a major producer nor a major drug-transit country. The U.S. removed Lebanon from its list of drug producing countries in 1997.

But drug production has yet to disappear. A survey of 90 countries found that Lebanon -- after Morocco, Afghanistan, and Pakistan -- is the fourth most common source of cannabis resin, according to the United Nations Office of Drug Control's "World Drug Report 2005." Furthermore, according to the UNODC's most recent report on Lebanon, the country is a transit country for cocaine.

Drop Eradication Works

Colonel Adel Machmouchi, chief of the Drug Enforcement Central Bureau of the International Security Forces, said in an interview with RFE/RL on 8 December in Beirut that the crop eradication program has been very effective. "After the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri [in February] several traffickers spread the idea that the Lebanese government does not have the competence to -- with this political and security situation -- to destroy the production of illegal plants." Despite this, he continued, the security forces managed to wipe out all the illegal plantings they saw. The security forces rely mostly on human intelligence -- rather than aerial reconnaissance -- to find the crops. Machmouchi explained that Lebanon is a small country and the crops are concentrated in parts of the Bekaa Valley, so finding them is not so difficult.

Farmers are reluctant to cultivate narcotics anymore, according to the State Department, in the face of having their crops destroyed. In the absence of alternatives, the report warns, illicit crops will remain an option.

Machmouchi suggested that the international community and particularly developed countries could assist in encouraging farmers to grow alternative crops. "They should buy our legal agricultural products -- our fruits, our vegetables. And I think, in parallel, there should be a legal cultivation program. I think we have good quality produce."

Changing Consumption Patterns

Lebanon used to export hashish to Europe and the Persian Gulf, Machmouchi said. Now, he continued, his country is an importer of drugs, mainly cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as heroin from Turkey and Afghanistan. Abuse of synthetic drugs is at a fairly low level, compared to traditional substances like cocaine, hashish, and heroin. There is also some use of Captagon -- an amphetamine-like nervous system stimulant.

The United Nations and the U.S. State Department note that other synthetic drugs, such as Ecstasy, are available in Lebanon. Lebanese Internal Security Forces data asserts that 4,578 kilograms of hashish were seized from 1 January to 30 November 2005, and almost 8 kilograms of cocaine during the same time. The data does not detail any seizures of Ecstasy or methamphetamine.

Learning From Lebanon

"Another thing, the drug situation is an international crisis -- global -- it does not matter which country, the struggle against drugs is good," Machmouchi said. He advocated attacking the problem at the source -- countries where the crops are grown. If the crops are eliminated, Machmouchi continued, wiping out the facilities at which drugs are made is easy. "It is easier to wipe out large amounts of narcotics at one time than it is to seize a gram here and a gram there." When one considers the adverse impact of drugs on health, Machmouchi added, eliminating narcotics production would have many benefits.

Lebanon is a signatory to several international drug-control agreements, including the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 UN Drug Convention. The Lebanese government also cooperates with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board, and Lebanese officials participate in international drug control forums. In light of the country's success in eradicating narcotics production, it could be an invaluable source of information for other countries.