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By Joshua Partlow

Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 8, 2008; Page A01

ALONG THE SAN MIGUEL RIVER, Ecuador -- The captain held a finger to his lips, and his soldiers crouched on either the side of the jungle path. He saw the pair of footprints pressed into the mud behind a tree, which he recognized as marks from the rubber boots preferred by the Colombian guerrillas he was after.


The Ecuadoran soldiers who pursue the guerrillas operate along a 366-mile-long border, most of it marked by rivers that can be crossed at any point by canoe. In this remote jungle, they have found weapons dumps, cocaine labs and hundreds of guerrilla camps linked by footpaths that ribbon for miles through the undergrowth.

Of the few people who live here, many are Colombian settlers, some of them refugees fleeing the guerrilla war or toxic fumigants sprayed over the coca fields of southern Colombia, some of them farmers conspiring with the guerrillas. Some are guerrillas themselves. The soldiers can rarely tell who is who.