updated 12/9/2003 12:19:56 PM ET 2003-12-09T17:19:56

A U.S. plane crashed while fumigating cocaine-producing crops in volatile northern Colombia on Sunday, killing the American pilot, the army said.

The crash  in Catatumbo, an area filled with coca crops, appeared to be an accident and not a rebel attack, as officials had believed earlier.

“Initially, there was talk of the plane being hit, but then those who went to the site said there were no (bullet holes),” Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez told reporters. “We are not sure what caused the accident.”

Army Gen. Jairo Duvan Pineda told RCN Television the weather was bad at the time of the crash.

The pilot was a U.S. citizen originally from Costa Rica. Officials did not release his identity or say where he lived.

Rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are fighting for control of Catatumbo against the army, another rebel group and outlawed paramilitary fighters.

Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, and the coca crops generate huge profits for the illegal groups.

The U.S. government has given billions of dollars in aid and training to the Colombian military to support its nearly four-decade war against leftist rebels and to wipe out cocaine and heroin production.

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