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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Ecuador hit by Colombia conflict
Coca pickers at work
Ecuador wants Colombia to stop crop spraying on the border
Colombia's war on drug traffickers and guerrillas has spilled across the border into neighbouring Ecuador, triggering fears of a "Colombianisation" of the region.

Amid claims that Colombian rebels are using northern Ecuador as a training ground, the Colombian daily El Tiempo said the "question on the minds of all Ecuadoreans is whether this is only the beginning of something much worse".

The environmental and social impact of the US-backed drug eradication programme is under scrutiny on both sides of the 620 km (389 mile) border.

Lago Agrio borders rebel territory in Colombia
The police station in Lago Agrio was recently attacked by rebels
Ecuador has asked Colombia to stop aerial crop spraying near the border, fearing that the chemicals used to eradicate coca - the raw ingredient of cocaine - could harm Ecuadoreans' health.

The clashes between guerrillas and paramilitary groups in Colombia have seen more than 2,000 Colombians flee their homeland to Ecuador. About 900 are still living in refugee camps in Lago Agrio, in Sucumbios Province.

And nearly 300 Ecuadorean indians have fled the border area, heading to the cities following death threats from armed Colombians allegedly belonging to the National Liberation Army.

International attention

The escalation of violence on the border drew international attention in October 2000, when 10 oil workers - from France, the United States, Chile, New Zealand and Argentina - were kidnapped by alleged guerrillas in Sucumbios Province.

A FARC rebel
Guerrilla and paramilitary incursions into Ecuador are increasing

The hostages were eventually released for a ransom of $13m, which was dropped from a helicopter over the jungle.

But this was not an isolated incident. According to military intelligence, a gang of Colombian guerrillas and Ecuadorean criminals have carried out dynamite attacks on an oil pipeline, causing extensive ecological damage.

On 4 July a dozen men - dressed as civilians, but armed with machine guns - attacked a police station in Lago Agrio. Two policemen were killed.

Drug eradication

Ecuador wants Colombia to use manual rather than chemical means to eradicate the coca crop in the border strip.

The Latin American Association for Human Rights says the chemicals used constitute "a serious risk for human and animal health".

In May, several hundred Ecuadorean farmers protested in Quito, demanding compensation from the government for the loss of their livelihoods.

The farmers say that entire fields of coffee and other legal produce have been destroyed.

An editorial in the Bogota newspaper El Espectador summed up Colombian concerns over this policy, saying "aerial fumigation is harmful, manual eradication is desirable, but to make either of these proposals worthwhile minimal control of the armed conflict is needed".

With presidential elections approaching in Colombia, there are few signs that a political solution to the conflict can be found in the life of the current administration.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

24 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Bordering on dangerous in Ecuador
06 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ecuador
12 Oct 00 | Americas
Oil workers kidnapped in Ecuador
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