Ecuador sues Colombia over spraying of coca fields near border

Ecuador is asking the International Court of Justice to force Colombia to halt spraying herbicides on coca fields along its border, Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador announced Monday.

Ecuador is asking the International Court of Justice to force Colombia to halt spraying herbicides on coca fields along its border, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador announced Monday.

Salvador said that Ecuador had tried to get Colombia to stop the spraying close to the border for seven years, and "the diplomatic process was exhausted."

The suit filed before the world court at The Hague comes at a time of tension between the South American neighbors because of a cross-border Colombian raid on a rebel camp — an attack that Ecuador says violated its sovereignty.

Salvador told a news conference Ecuador has "overwhelming evidence" that the aerial spray has crossed the border "and as a result the health and economics of numerous Ecuadoreans have been seriously affected." The country says crops and livestock have
been harmed.

Ecuador is asking the world court to rule that Colombia has violated its sovereignty. It wants the court to order Colombia to halt spraying within nine kilometres of the border and pay for damages it has caused.

Colombia's government rejected the suit Monday, arguing that protests by Ecuadoreans against the aerial spray are promoted and manipulated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which funds itself primarily through cocaine-trafficking.

The government confirmed that Colombia agreed to suspend spraying within six miles of the border and instead eradicate the crops manually — "with the risk in human life that this implies."

Colombia also said President Alvaro Uribe had offered to compensate Ecuadoreans affected by the spraying, but "authorities never presented a concrete request on damages."

Colombia agreed in late 2005 to suspend spraying in response to Ecuador's complaints, but it resumed spraying in December 2006, complaining that rebels had swarmed into the area.

It announced yet another suspension in February 2007, saying it would cut the plants by hand. But Ecuador says it has not promised it won't resume spraying at some point.

Earlier Monday, Ecuadorean Defence Minister Wellington Sandoval acknowledged that the military knew that Raul Reyes — the Colombian guerrilla leader killed in the March 1 raid — often entered Ecuador to escape Colombian troops.

"We knew that Reyes crossed into Ecuador frequently," Sandoval told Quito daily El Comercio.

But he said thick jungle makes it hard to spot rebel camps from the air and the rebels have forged a close relationship with "many people in the border region in Ecuador. They pay them well."

Reyes' camp was located in an area known by Ecuador's military and locals as a "liberated zone" frequented by rebels for some 20 years, Sandoval said.

Apology from Colombia

Colombia has apologized for entering Ecuadorean territory, but says it had a right to attack the camp. On Monday, Bogota said FARC rebels have launched attacks on Colombia's military or police from Ecuadorean territory 40 times since 2004, resulting in 26 agents dead, 18 wounded and one kidnapped.

Leftist President Rafael Correa warned Saturday that Ecuador could pull its military from the border with Colombia in response to the discovery that an Ecuadorean citizen was among the 25 people killed in the raid.

That would leave Colombia with the full burden of keeping rebels from using Ecuador as refuge.

But asked if the military will continue to patrol the border, Sandoval said, "Of course." He said Ecuadorean troops have orders to shoot if they discover rebels who resist.

Ecuador broke diplomatic ties with Colombia after the raid.