BOGOTA, Colombia --
The U.S. ambassador urged Colombia Sunday to spray weed killer inside the country's spectacular nature parks to destroy cocaine-producing crops, insisting the chemicals will not cause widespread damage to the reserves' ecosystems.
Harried by eradication campaigns elsewhere, drug traffickers have in recent years streamed into the parks, where spraying is banned. In the parks, they have torn down thousands of acres of virgin rain forest to plant coca, the raw ingredient in cocaine.
In response, Colombia's government is debating whether to lift a ban on aerial fumigation in the reserves.
"We don't want the parks and reserves to turn into refuges or sanctuaries for coca," U.S. Ambassador William Wood said in an interview in the newsmagazine Cambio.
Wood insisted that research shows that the weed killer used in the spraying "doesn't seep into the soil or contaminate rivers."
The amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia's 49 national parks has more than tripled to 28,000 acres since 2003. But the destruction is worse than the figures would indicate; for every acre of coca planted, an average of three acres are torn down.
Colombia, the world's biggest cocaine producer, is home to about 15 percent of all the world's plant species and one of its most diverse arrays of amphibians, mammals and birds.
Dozens of species that populate its jungles and Andes mountains exist nowhere else. One of the richest areas is the Sierra Macarena National Park, where monkeys clamber across the jungle canopy and seven big cat species prowl in its shadows.