DEPT. DRUG-TRAFFICKING REPORT ON SYRIA AND LEBANON
In 1999, the Syrian Arab Republic Government (SARG) continued to make progress in combating the drug trade, but Syria remains an important transit country. Jordan has become the primary destination for drugs transiting Syria, while Lebanon and Turkey remain significant transshipment points to/from Syria. Syria has used its influence in Lebanon to assist Lebanese officials to significantly suppress drug production and trafficking. Syria is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, but does not have a bilateral narcotics agreement with the U.S. In recognition of SARG drug control efforts, President Clinton removed Syria from the drug Majors List in 1997 and placed it on a "watch list" for continued monitoring for the suppression of cultivation.
II. Status of Country
Syria is a transit country for hashish and heroin moving through the region, especially from Lebanon and Turkey, and for opium and morphine entering Lebanon and Jordan from Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey. 1999 saw some increase in movement of cocaine from Brazil, via Europe, through Syria, en route to Lebanon. Increased shipment of drugs through Syria to Saudi Arabia and Israel via Jordan was also observed. The available evidence indicates that the bulk of narcotics transiting Syria goes to other parts of the region and to Europe, but not in significant quantities to the United States.
No members of the Syrian military stationed in Lebanon were prosecuted for drug trafficking in 1999. While there have been previous allegations of such trafficking, Syrian counternarcotics officials maintain that these accusations are seldom substantiated by hard evidence and that, meanwhile, drug production in the Biqa' valley has decreased significantly, even in remote mountainous areas without roads. At the same time, these officials acknowledge that some low-ranking individuals in the Syrian military have been arrested in the past with small amounts of drugs.
Syria was added to the Majors List in the late 1980's because opium in the Syrian-controlled Lebanese Biqa' Valley exceeded the threshold limits set by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended. Estimates in 1991 determined that 3400 hectares were being used for opium production in the Biqa' valley. In 1992, Syria and Lebanon launched a successful eradication campaign which has been sustained to the present, reducing the cultivated area to approximately 150 hectares in recent estimates.
The cultivation of cannabis, processed into hashish for primarily non-U.S. markets, was also reduced drastically during the same period. In recognition of these efforts, Syria was removed from the Majors List in 1997.
III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1999
Policy Initiatives. Syria's anti-trafficking law of 1993 calls forthe death penalty for certain offenses. In practice, the maximum sentence is 30 years, however. Many cases are pending under this law, and there are on-going prosecutions of drug offenders. There are provisions for the seizure of assets financed by profits from the drug trade which are invoked on a case-by-case basis.
Law Enforcement Efforts. Movement of precursor chemicals through Syria is currently believed to occur on a small scale, and Syrian authorities have seized very small amounts of precursor chemicals in transit. In 1999 the Syrian government codified a 1996 plan to control these chemicals.
Syria cooperates closely with Lebanese authorities in the areas of interdiction, cultivation and production. In 1999, Syria also continued its cooperation with Jordan on narcotics matters.
Syrian and Turkish officials have continued to cooperate on a limited basis. Corruption. In the past there have been unconfirmed reports of corruption among some Syrian military officials in Lebanon involving the issuance of passes permitting the free movement of goods and persons in return for bribes.
The SARG has an Investigations Administration (Internal Affairs Division) responsible for weeding out corrupt officers in the counternarcotics unit and the national police force.
The Investigations Administration is independent of both the counternarcotics unit and the national police and reports directly to the Minister of the Interior. According to Syrian authorities, there were no arrests or prosecutions of officers in the counternarcotics unit for corruption in 1999.
Agreements and Treaties. Syria is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention and the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1972 Protocol, as well as the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Syria maintains anti-drug agreements with Cyprus, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey. In 1999 Syria renewed its anti-drug agreement with Saudi Arabia.
In 1996, Syria signed a new agreement with Pakistan which called for increased information-sharing in the counternarcotics field. Syria and the U.S. do not have a narcotics agreement, nor is there an extradition treaty between the two countries. Syria is a member of INTERPOL.
Cultivation/Production. Authorities do not permit the cultivation and/or production of narcotics within Syria. They are generally successful in preventing narcotics cultivation/production.
Drug Flow/Transit. Syrian officials estimated that in 1999 the flow of narcotics transiting Syria and destined for other countries in the region was approximately 20 percent higher than in 1998. They said shipment of narcotics from Turkey continues to be a major challenge, and shipment of drugs to Jordan has surpassed that to Lebanon. Drug interdiction remains the focus of the Syrian counternarcotics effort.
Domestic Programs/Demand Reduction. Due to the social stigma attached to drug use and Syria's strict anti-trafficking law, the incidence of drug abuse in Syria is low. The SARG uses the media to educate the public on the dangers of drug use. Drug awareness remains part of the national curriculum for school children.
IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs
Policy Initiatives. In meetings with Syrian officials, the USG continues to stress the need for diligence in preventing narcotics and precursor chemicals from transiting Syrian territory; the need to work with the Lebanese government in dismantling drug laboratories in Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon; and the necessity of terminating any involvement, active or passive, of individual Syrian officials in the drug trade.
Bilateral Cooperation. U.S. embassy officials in Damascus and DEA officials based in Nicosia maintain an ongoing dialogue with Syrian authorities in the counternarcotics unit.
In addition, high-ranking U.S. Officials periodically share their views and recommendations with the Syrian ministries of foreign affairs and interior.
The Road Ahead. The USG will continue to press the Syrian government to maintain its commitment to combating drug transit and production in the region; to follow through on plans to enact anti-money laundering legislation; to encourage Syria to improve its counternarcotics cooperation with neighboring countries. The USG will also encourage Syrian officials to continue their work with their Lebanese counterparts to ensure that drug production in Lebanon is eliminated; to find and destroy drug processing laboratories in those areas where Syrian forces are present; and to work to minimize the involvement of Syrian officials in drug trafficking.
I. Summary Lebanon is not a major illicit drug-producing or drug-transit country. Local cannabis production is insignificant and there is practically no lab processing. Drug trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border has substantially diminished as a result of Lebanese and Syrian efforts to deter illicit cultivation and smuggling activity. There is no significant money laundering, and banks comply with a self-regulating due diligence guidelines. Lebanon is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
II. Status Of Country For the tenth consecutive year, the Government of Lebanon (GOL) continued to combat forcefully illegal crop cultivation. Strict control was imposed on areas that traditionally cultivated cannabis. In 1999, the Lebanese International Security Force (ISF) destroyed hashish cultivation in Deir al Ahmar, Yamouneh, Yunin, Irsal, and Btadi'. However, some plots escaped control in the remote areas of the eastern mountains (Yamouneh, Ainata,Ouyoun Urgush, Jabab al-Homr, Marjahin, Kalaat Aruba, Kanisset al-Kobeyat) and of the western mountains (Brital, Haam, Ma'rabun). Also, some very limited cannabis cultivation persisted among tobacco crops in the Bekaa valley, but on a small scale. (The areas planted were much less than in years preceding 1989, when Lebanon started the eradication of illicit crops.)
III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1999 Policy Initiatives. Following his election in 1998, Lebanese president Emile Lahoud renewed a platform promise and vowed to extend his anti-corruption campaign to the war on drugs. In early 1999, the second-in-command of the Beirut narcotics unit, Colonel Michele Chakkour, was tried on charges that he directed the torture of a narcotics suspect who subsequently died. Chakkour was convicted and sentenced to three years incarceration.
Cultivation/Production. The GOL, in cooperation with Syrian authorities, continues to suppress the illicit cultivation of opium and cannabis in the Biqa' Valley. In May 1999, the Internal Security Forces announced they would increase patrols and crack down on illicit cultivation, warning violators they would face penalties of life imprisonment and heavy fines. Nevertheless, dissatisfaction continued among farmers who cited the UNDCP failure to provide adequate funds for crop substitution. GOL authorities maintain that as a result of destruction of hashish and poppy plantations, the production of hashish and heroin was nearly eliminated, although small quantities of morphine and heroin are smuggled overland from Turkey for local use.
Transit/Trafficking. Lebanon is no longer a major transit country; any transit is done by amateurs, outside the major drug trafficking networks. Established smuggling routes have been substantially weakened. The transport of hashish across the Syrian-Lebanese border was drastically reduced in quantity and value in 1999. This is attributable to the general attitude of both the Lebanese and the Syrian government's toward fighting drug trafficking. There were less significant quantities of drugs imported by sea or air in 1999 as a result of tighter control by the Lebanese security apparatus. Syrian authorities seized seven kilos of hashish from a large bus battery modified to conceal the drugs. When interdicted, the bus was transiting Syria as it journeyed from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia. More significant than the seizure was the fact that the bus had been transporting hashish in this manner every week for the past four years. Eight Syrians and four Saudis were arrested in connection with this case.
Three types of drugs are available in Lebanon: hashish, heroin, and cocaine. Hashish and heroin are no longer available in large quantities; sales of user quantities continue at the local level. South American cocaine is smuggled into Lebanon primarily via air and sea route connections with Europe, Jordan, and Syria. Lebanese nationals living in South America in concert with resident Lebanese traffickers often finance these operations.
Law Enforcement Efforts. In March 1999 a Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldier was killed in an exchange of gunfire between his patrol and several unidentified persons in the Hermel region of the Biqa'. Following the incident, the LAF raided several houses in the area, arrested several suspects, and confiscated weapons and one kilogram of opium.
In July 1999, five individuals were arrested for distributing large quantities of cocaine, opium, and hashish to a reported two hundred college students in the Massourieh/Metn area of the Bekaa. The group sold half a gram of heroin for $20, half a gram of cocaine for $25, and hashish cigarettes for $15. The deals were transacted using cell phones.
In August 1999, GOL officials at Beirut International Airport arrested a Kuwaiti woman after seizing from her person nineteen (19) grams of pure cocaine and five grams of heroin.
In September 1999 the commander of the judiciary police announced that a joint ISF/LAF operation had resulted in the arrest of a notorious drug dealer, the object of more than sixty outstanding warrants of arrest. The GOL also arrested dozens of the fugitive's associates. GOL authorities reportedly seized massive quantities of hashish, cocaine, and cannabis seeds as a result of this joint operation. In October 1999 an Egyptian national was arrested for attempting to smuggle four hundred forty-five (445) grams of heroin in a washing machine through Beirut International Airport. The drugs were outbound to Egypt. In November 1999, an LAF tank was rocketed in the village of Hourtaala, Bekaa Valley, injuring three soldiers. The subsequent sweep by the LAF resulted in seizures of weapons and drugs from the homes of the alleged perpetrators. In December 1999 ISF anti-narcotics personnel seized a reported four tons of hashish plants from an isolated storage site between Deir al-Ahmar and al-Kneisseh.
In 1999, the GOL orchestrated several controlled delivery operations in concert with their European counterparts, resulting in significant drug seizures. The GOL, through its Ministry of Health, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and the Customs Directorate General, monitors the legal importation of all precursor chemicals into Lebanon.
Corruption. President Lahoud successfully campaigned in 1998 on a platform of attacking corruption at all levels of government. Efforts continue in support of that position, including anti-corruption legislation passed in late 1999, popularly known as the "Illicit Wealth Bill". In 1999, several key government administrators, including a former minister of petroleum, were arrested on embezzlement and fraud charges. Some were subsequently released, others remain incarcerated pending trial.
Agreements and Treaties. Lebanon and the United States have no formal bilateral agreements addressing the issues of narcotics trafficking or extradition. There continue to be renditions to other countries of Lebanese citizens suspected of drug-related offenses. Legislation passed the Lebanese Parliament in 1998 authorizing seizure of assets if a drug trafficking nexus is established in court proceedings.
Lebanon is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, as well as the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Cultivation/Production. It is roughly estimated that only 240-260 hectares of cannabis cultivation remain in Lebanon, a very similar accounting to that identified in 1998. The total value of the season's crop ranged between $2.88 and $3.75 million. It is worth noting that one metric ton of green cannabis yields the following according to crop quality: 5 kgs of first category hashish, 5 kgs of second category hashish, 5 kgs of third category hashish, and 2 kgs of hashish seeds.
Domestic Programs. Personal drug abuse is not perceived as a significant problem in Lebanon. As a result, there are few programs designed to raise drug abuse awareness. There are, however, several private drug treatment clinics in Lebanon.
IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs Policy Initiatives. USAID, in close cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, is planning to implement a four-component program to aid and empower key Lebanese stakeholders, local government, media, and civil society in their efforts to fight corruption. The program aims to increase public awareness of the costs of corruption, strengthen investigative journalism, foster transparency and accountability at the municipal government level, and provide small grants to support anti-corruption efforts by local groups.
Bilateral Cooperation. As noted, there are no bilateral narcotics-related agreements. Cooperation takes the form of counternarcotics training courses and operational cooperation with regional DEA Agents.
Road Ahead. Given the level of Syrian involvement in Lebanese domestic affairs, success in combating narcotics cultivation and trafficking depends on Syrian as well as Lebanese government will. Syria has demonstrated, however, a continued commitment to anti-narcotics actions in Lebanon. We expect Syria and Lebanon will both continue to pursue this policy. The GOL has not done enough to develop a socio-economic strategy to tackle the problem of crop substitution. The government was successful in destroying the illegal crops but has yet to find a suitable crop to replace the lost revenues and sustain the livelihoods of the local farmers.