Hundreds of Albanian police, backed by armored vehicles, stormed the southern village of Lazarat June 16 after marijuana growers apparently fired machine-guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at officers sent in on a drug raid. Four people -- a police officer and three villagers -- are reported injured so far in the operation that remains underway. Smoke is reported to be rising above the village, with witnesses saying it was caused by locals burning cannabis plants before police closed in. Security forces have seized more than 10 tons of cannabis in the operation thus far. Lazarat is said to produce some 900 tons of cannabis annually, worth 4.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion)—equivalent to nearly half of Albania's gross domestic product. The village of some 5,000 people lives off the proceeds from the cannabis trade. Aerial photos suggest some 60 hectares were cultivated in Lazarat last November, amounting to an estimated half the total production of Albania. Heavily armed villagers have repeatedly fended off secuity forces sent in to eradicate the crop.
But this time Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri told AP news agency that the operation will continue until "every square centimeter in Lazarat is under state control." The interior ministry has advised people to stay indoors during the operation, which comes as part of the government's campaign to crack down on the marijuana economy in its bid to join the European Union.
But opponents of the new Socialist-led government charge that officials have a hand in the cannabis trade. The chair of the opposition Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, called the Lazarat crackdown a "pseudo-campaign," saying "this is not a fight against drugs, but rather a fight for seizing new markets."