Pubdate: Wed, 27 Dec 2000
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 2000 Reuters Limited.
Author: Jude Webber


BOGOTA (Reuters) - Warring leftist guerrillas and far-right paramilitaries, 
and the illegal drug trade in the world's top cocaine producer are causing 
an ecological disaster of "unsuspected proportions" in Colombia, according 
to an army report published on Wednesday.

The report, titled "The scars on 'Mother Earth,"' said the rebel groups' 
tactic of blowing up oil pipelines had polluted the Andean nation's 
ecosystem with more than 2 million tons of crude oil in the last decade.

The drug trade, it said, contaminated the soil with 200,000 tons of 
chemicals a year and causing deforestation at a pace that was rapidly 
destroying the country's jungles.

"Guerrillas and paramilitaries have caused this ecological catastrophe 
which, ... if the current rate of deforestation continues, will turn half 
the country's jungles into pasture in 17 years," the report said, quoting 
Environment Ministry experts.

It said the heavily wooded regions of Amazonas, bordering Peru in the 
south, and Orinoquia, which borders Venezuela and Brazil in the east, were 
in were in "imminent danger."

Colombia is one of the world's five top countries in terms of water 
resources and biodiversity, the Environment Ministry says. No one there was 
available for comment on the report.

The army calculated that about 3,600 square miles of jungle and 
agricultural land had been lost in the past decade.

Although a tiny proportion of Colombia's total area of about 441,000 square 
miles, the destruction still represents "ecological damage ... of 
unsuspected proportions," it said.

Colombia has been riven by four decades of strife -- the longest conflict 
in Latin America -- involving the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of 
Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), far-right 
paramilitary death squads and the army, which critics accuse of being 
linked to paramilitaries or turning a blind eye to their activities.

The war has claimed 35,000 lives in the past decade alone.

Crude And Coke

The United States believes the 17,000-strong FARC, Latin America's biggest 
rebel army, plays a dominant role in drug production.

Colombia is the source of 90 percent of the world's cocaine, with annual 
output of 520 tons, and it also produces 6 tons of heroin annually, 
according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Guerrillas have targeted oil, Colombia's main export, as a tactic in their 
war against the state, staging some 1,000 assaults on oil pipelines since 
1986. The 5,000-strong ELN has been responsible for 80 percent of the assaults.

The army report, citing Environment Ministry figures, said crude oil had 
contaminated 1,625 miles of river, equivalent to the total length of 
Colombia's two biggest rivers, the Cauca and the Magdalena, with slicks of 
up to 112 miles in length.

The report called the drug trade "one of the direct causes of the 
destruction of biodiversity," saying coca leaf, poppies and marijuana 
cultivation had caused serious deforestation.

It cited Colombia's human rights monitor's office as saying 3,300 square 
miles of jungle had been lost in the last 30 years.

Furthermore, it said some 200,000 tons a year of 28 types of chemicals used 
in the processing of coca leaf and poppies for cocaine and heroin were 
leaching into the water and soil.
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