Published April 5, 2008
Ecuador has filed a lawsuit against Colombia, claiming that herbicides sprayed in a U.S.-funded effort to kill coca plants in Colombia are drifting across the border, killing legitimate crops and sickening people on its side of the border.
The lawsuit, filed in the World Court in The Hague earlier this week, reflects growing tensions between Ecuador's leftist government and Washington stemming from a March 1 raid by Colombian troops on a guerrilla camp on Ecuador's side of the border.
The lawsuit follows years of diplomatic efforts by Ecuador to establish a 6-mile-wide no-spray zone along the border, according to the Environmental News Service.
A panel of Ecuadorean scientists reached the "irrefutable conclusion that Colombian aerial fumigations have had noxious effects on our people and our environment," Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador said in announcing the lawsuit, the news service reported on its Web site in a dispatch from The Hague.
Though Ecuador claims the complaint is unrelated to tensions along its border with Colombia, the region has been especially tense since the Colombian attack that killed a leading member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Leftist rebel group.
Colombia accused an Ecuadorean military helicopter of entering Colombian airspace on Sunday.
When confronted by two Colombian Black Hawk helicopters, the Ecuadorean helicopter fled across the border.
An officer from the Ecuadorean Army's Second Division characterized the incident as an "involuntary incursion" due to a navigation error by the pilot.
Ecuador severed diplomatic relations with Colombia following the March 1 raid, in which Colombian commandos captured at least one laptop computer with e-mails and other documents that reportedly detail financial links between FARC and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Mr. Chavez has been negotiating the release of hostages held by FARC, including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who is reported to be gravely ill.
Aerial spraying is a key part of Plan Colombia, which has received $5 billion from the United States in recent years in an effort to eliminate cocaine production in Colombia and other Andean nations.
Critics say coca growers move to other parts of the jungle, including the Ecuador-Colombia border region to avoid spraying.
They also say that Colombia's fumigation planes are forced to fly high to avoid being shot by FARC guerillas.
The result is that the herbicide glyphosate — the chemical in the widely used U.S. home-garden product Roundup — gets caught in crosswinds and migrates to nearby areas in Ecuador.