More than 500 police officers exchanged fire with drug traffickers as they launched a crackdown on the outlaw marijuana-growing village of Lazarat in southern Albania.
Besar Likmeta, BIRN
Tirana – Members of the Albanian police force patrol the southern village of Lazarat, 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of capital Tirana, Albania, Monday, June 16, 2014. Albanian authorities say hundreds of police trying to enter a lawless marijuana-growing southern village have been fired at with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine guns. A police statement says nobody was hurt in the pre-dawn attack by suspected drug gang members outside Lazarat, home to some 3,000 people. (AP Photo)
Police on Monday launched a pre-dawn raid on the village which produced an estimated 900 metric tons of marijuana last year and has been a no-go area for the authorities for more than a decade.
The authorities said that a gang of traffickers fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine guns at police officers who were trying to seize the warehouses of a suspected drugs baron, Gate Mahmutaj.
Speaking to local media by phone from the village, Mahmutaj denied that he shot at police officers.
Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri warned of harsh retribution if the culprits did not surrender.
“Those who fired on the police have made a terrible miscalculation,” Tahiri told a press conference.
“Drop your weapons and leave the police do their job, otherwise the force of the law will act like never before,” he said.
The operation is being led by the general director of the Albanian police, Artan Didi, who has published a list of two dozen suspects believed to have fired on police officers in Lazarat, underlining that they all have criminal convictions for drug trafficking or other serious crimes.
The mayor of Lazarat, Dashnor Aliko, told local media that he was trying to negotiate the suspects’ surrender.
Journalists from Albania’s A1 Report TV were reportedly attacked in the village and their car set on fire after they were shot at with AK-47 automatic rifles.
The journalists said that they escaped unhurt after the intervention of local villagers.