TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Italian police officers on Monday hailed their Albanian counterparts for their fight against drug production and trafficking in the western Balkan country, once a key producer of marijuana on the continent.

The Albanian police fight “has gravely hit the criminal organizations managing the production and trafficking of narcotics, obliging them to change their behavior,” said Gen. Giusseppe Arbore of the Guardia di Finanza.

Italian planes have been monitoring Albanian airspace for the last decade, usually covering one-third of the country's territory each year during June to October during the marijuana growing season. This year they found 58,423 marijuana plants. which were destroyed from police.

Albanian police chief Ardi Veliu said this year authorities have destroyed 137,000 drug plants, compared to 2.5 million plants five years ago, and arrested 284 people.

Albania was once a major European producer of marijuana and a crossroads for its smuggling. A government crackdown five years ago led to a significant reduction in the number of cannabis plantations, but regular seizures indicate traffickers are still seeking alternative places to grow or store marijuana.