The Colombian government vowed to sustain its efforts to end the country’s half-century civil war after voters handed it a shock defeat by rejecting a peace accord reached with the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.
Resentful of the blood shed by the leftist guerrillas and the immunity the accord offers many of them from prosecution, voters on Sunday rejected the historic deal by a razor-thin margin, defying the government and flying in the face of opinion polls.
The result threw Colombia’s future into uncertainty. The sides spent four years negotiating the deal and agreed it must be ratified in a referendum — but there was no Plan B in the event of a “No” vote.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos admitted defeat, but said: “I will not give in, and I will continue to seek peace to the last day of my term.”
FARC chief Rodrigo Londono, also known as Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez, vowed his side was also committed to continuing peace efforts.
He said its ceasefire remained in force.
“The FARC deeply deplores that the destructive power of those who sow hatred and resentment has influenced the Colombian people’s opinion,” he said in Havana, where the accord was negotiated.
“The people of Colombia who dream of peace can count on us. Peace will triumph,” he added.
Also “very disappointed” was Borge Brende, foreign affairs minister of Norway, one of the countries actively supporting the peace process.
He told radio NRK that accord supporters should “work in the next days to see if there are solutions to save peace in Colombia” by taking into account opposition to the deal.
The peace accord was supposed to end the last major armed conflict in the Western hemisphere.
However, the late Sunday vote result was a dramatic defeat for Santos and the accord he signed with the FARC.
Commentators compared the result to that of June’s surprise “Brexit” vote for Britain to leave the EU.
Colombians voted 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent against the accord, according to results published online with more than 99.9 percent of votes counted.
The “No” camp won by about 54,000 votes, or less than half a percentage point, electoral authorities said.
Surveys ahead of the vote had predicted a strong “Yes” victory.
However, voting was not mandatory, and turnout was low at just more than 37 percent.
Authorities said heavy rain caused by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean disrupted some voting.
Some FARC victims publicly backed the accord.
However, forecasts apparently miscalculated Colombians’ desire to punish the guerrillas.
Opponents resented concessions that included amnesty for some FARC members, although not for the worst crimes such as massacres, torture and rape.
“It is absurd to reward those criminals, drug traffickers and killers who have made the country a disaster for the past 50 years,” said “No” voter Jose Gomez, a retiree of 70.
Monica Gonzalez, 36, celebrated the result in Bogota.
She said the FARC killed her grandmother in 2011 and kidnapped some of her relatives.
“I agree with second chances, but not with impunity,” she said.
Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who led the “No” campaign, called for a “national pact” to work for peace.
However, it was unclear how peace efforts might move forward now.
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