Colombians have rejected a landmark peace agreement with leftist FARC rebels in a referendum which had been expected to support the deal.
The surprise victory for the “No” camp was by less than one percentage point. In general the main cities were in favour unlike the rural areas.
President Juan Manuel Santos who had staked his reputation on the pact has accepted the result but stressed in an address to the nation that the current ceasefire will continue.
“Now we will decide all together which way we will go to achieve the peace that we all want – what will be possible from this situation. I won’t surrender, I will keep pursuing peace until the last minute of my mandate.”
The commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko, gave a similar message from Havana, where peace negotiations have taken place over the last four years.
“FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as weapons to build towards the future.”
deal too soft
Opponents of the pact still want a peace deal but claim the one on offer was too soft on the rebels by allowing them to re-enter society, form a political party and escape traditional jail sentences.
“No” campaigner Francisco Santos claimed the reject of the accord was a victory for a more just peace:
“The triumph of the ‘no’ is the triumph of a more inclusive peace, peace which includes us all, a more stable peace. To the FARC I say, ‘Keep calm, because we are going to guarantee that this process will be successfully completed.”
The rejection of the pact, signed last week, has shattered the sense of international celebration over the expected end to five decades of war. While the Colombian people still needed to ratify it for the accord to come into force, many had thought that was a done deal.
For decades, the FARC bankrolled the longest-running conflict in the Americas through the illegal drug trade, kidnapping and extortion, spreading a sense of terror that left few Colombians unaffected. The conflict took more than 220,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
The bloodshed, at its worst, saw the FARC positioned close to the capital and the state on the verge of collapse.
Battles between the guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug gangs and the army raged in the countryside and there were atrocities committed on all sides.