From: Reuters
Published December 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Colombia Open to New Studies of Drug Fumigation

QUITO, Ecuador — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Monday said he is willing to let scientists study the effects of a herbicide used to destroy illegal crops that has sparked a dispute with neighboring Ecuador.

Ecuador says the U.S.-backed spraying of the herbicide in Colombia hurts the environment and has damaged people's health on its side of the border.

"For me it's fine -- I don't oppose it," said Uribe when asked by an Ecuadorean radio station if he would allow new studies on the chemicals by international organizations.

His comments mark a shift in Colombia's stance that has relied heavily on a previous study by the Organization of American States asserting that the herbicide is safe for humans.

Uribe, a key U.S. ally in Latin America who has launched an aggressive offensive to eradicate coca crops used to make cocaine, declined to say if his government was planning to halt the fumigation.

Last week, Ecuador recalled its ambassador from Bogota in a sign of escalating tensions between the South American neighbors.

The diplomat will remain in the country indefinitely, according to a Foreign Ministry statement released on Monday.

Colombia, the world's top cocaine producer, says the spraying is vital in its efforts to crack down on the drug trade that finances leftist guerrillas fighting a four-decade insurgency.

Ecuadorean President-elect Rafael Correa has said Colombia's restart of spraying is a "hostile move" and has urged Uribe to halt it.

He is scheduled to meet Uribe later this week in Bogota.

Colombia resumed spraying along part of the 366-mile border last week after an 11-month pause.

Source: Reuters

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