Police actions contribute to Albania obtaining EU member candidate status.
By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 14/07/14
A policeman and two civilians were seriously wounded in a gun battle with drug traffickers in Lazarat. [Erl Murati/SETimes]
Albania's prime minister says a recent drug operation in the notorious community of Lazarat proves that the country is worthy of the European Union's decision to grant the country candidate status last month.
More than 800 police raided Lazarat, a small town of nearly 8,000 whose drug production yields totalled an estimated 4.5 billion euros annually.
Authorities said it was the first time that police secured a foothold in the municipality's drug production network since 2006.
Lazarat's drug production has been a black mark for Albania, but the police's progress in exerting control over the area contributed to the country obtaining EU candidate member status, said Prime Minster Edi Rama.
"[The police rose] Albania's head up and directly contributed to receiving the EU candidate status," Rama said.
Police seized more than 62 tonnes of marijuana and destroyed more than 133,000 cannabis plants in Lazarat, arresting 36 suspected drug traffickers and confiscating more than 500 firearms -- including anti-aircraft guns -- 220,000 bullets and explosives.
Police also filed charges against Lazarat Mayor Dashnor Aliko, accusing him of attempted murder against the police and heading an organised crime group.
"The recent police actions are of extraordinary importance because for the first time ever the authorities established control over the entire territory of Albania," Ilir Kulla, former presidential aide for national security, said.
"A NATO member that fails to establish security over its own territory is not reliable. That is why the intervention in Lazarat restores confidence in Albanian institutions," Kulla told SETimes.
These are historic times for Albania in the fight against drug trafficking, said Saimir Tahiri, Albania interior minister.
"What has changed is the will. Nowadays, the state police enjoy all the political will, even the greatest civic and public support it has ever had," Tahiri told SETimes.
Police found an undetermined amount of cash hidden in the tunnels close to Lazarat. A police officer was arrested attempting to flee in one of the luxurious vehicles confiscated by authorities.
The challenges for the government will continue since the drug business has co-opted many, making Albania a crime paradise and a source for EU countries, Mentor Nazarko, political analyst at Panorama in Tirana, said.
"Amnesty should be applied to all farmers and cannabis cultivators, while the drug traffickers should be fiercely punished," Nazarko told SETimes.
What else can Albania do to counter production and trade of drugs? Share your opinion in the comments section.