TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian authorities said Wednesday they have destroyed almost all of the marijuana planted in the country, a major European producer of the plant.
Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri said Wednesday that 99.2 percent, or 690,000 cannabis plants in 44 hectares (109 acres) identified on aerial maps, have been destroyed so far this year.
Last year, police destroyed about 550,000 cannabis plants and 102 tons of marijuana with an estimated market value at the time of 7 billion euros ($8.5 billion) — more than two-thirds of the country's annual gross domestic product.
Long a major producer, Albanian authorities began a crackdown last year, when police stormed the southern village of Lazarat with armored personnel carriers and came under automatic weapon and rocket fire from drug growers.
One police officer was shot dead in Lazarat, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tirana, when police repeated the crackdown in June this year.
Tahiri said drug growers have moved to high mountainous parcels to plant cannabis, using small planes to transport it abroad.
"The fight against drugs knows no end," he said. "It has a high cost and it is extremely difficult, but it continues."
The Italian and U.S. ambassadors commended Albanian authorities and assured them of their support. Besides Italy's Guardia di Finanza's presence, Washington has nominated a federal prosecutor and an FBI agent to help local police.
Prime Minister Edi Rama said that the police operations against drug cultivation has lost the criminal gangs billions of euros.