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Page last updated at 08:13 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 09:13 UK

'Ecuador incursion' into Colombia

Colombian military helicopter near Ecuadorian border - file photo 11/03/2008
Colombian helicopters tried to force the Ecuadorean helicopter to land

Colombia's government has condemned what it called an incursion into its airspace by an Ecuadorean helicopter.

The military helicopter was intercepted on Sunday by two Colombian aircraft before returning, Colombia said. Ecuador says it was an accident.

Relations have been tense since a Colombian raid into Ecuador on 1 March killed a senior Farc rebel leader.

The charge came after Ecuador sued Colombia in the international court at the Hague over anti-drug fumigation.

In the lawsuit, filed at the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands on Monday, Ecuador alleges that Colombian efforts to eradicate illicit coca crops is damaging legitimate crops in Ecuador.

Quito says the aerial crop spraying is also a violation of Ecuador's sovereignty.

Colombia has used aerial spraying in an effort to wipe out the coca crops used to produce the cocaine which helps fuel the country's four-decade civil conflict.

'Negative results'

Later on Monday, a statement from Colombia's presidential office said a Gazelle attack helicopter from Ecuador's air force was intercepted in Colombian air space by two Black Hawk helicopters at 1110 (1610 GMT) on Sunday.

The Colombian helicopters "tried to establish radio contact with said helicopter with negative results", the statement said.

Ecuadorean soldier examines the remains of the Farc camp after the Colombian raid - 3/3/2008
Colombia's raid into Ecuador sparked a regional crisis
The Gazelle was escorted by the Colombian helicopters and ordered to land at an airport in Tumaco but it "descended suddenly and flew low to the south". The Colombians then called off the interception, their statement said.

In response, the Ecuadorean foreign ministry said the helicopter had been on a supply mission to a base near the border and had strayed into Colombian airspace due to a "navigation error".

"The government of Ecuador regrets the involuntary overflight... and stresses that it was a completely accidental event of no significant import or duration," a statement said.

Colombia's 1 March raid into Ecuador struck a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) camp located just across the border.

A senior Farc commander, Raul Reyes, and more than 20 other people, including an Ecuadorean and four Mexican nationals, were killed.

The raid provoked the worst regional crisis in recent years. Ecuador and Venezuela sent troops to their borders, withdrawing them several days later after a meeting of regional leaders in the Dominican Republic soothed tensions.




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