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In Colombia, peace is elusive

A Colombian poised to vote 'No' to peace. Photograph: (Getty)

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Oct 04, 2016, 09.35 AM (IST) Giles Gibson

Colombia's shocking referendum result, with the "No" campaign defying the polls to win, exposed unexpectedly complex divides between rural and urban voters.

After four years of peace talks in Havana, Cuba, Colombians were asked to ratify a peace accord agreed between the government and the Marxist FARC rebels. The 52-year conflict has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions more. 

In the lead up to the vote, polls predicted that the peace deal would pass easily, bringing an end to one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

People in war-scarred rural states were predicted to overwhelmingly back Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' peace deal. Meanwhile cities further away from the conflict's violence were believed to be more divided about the referendum. 

"Because urban Colombia didn't live through combat, air strikes... it doesn't see the need" for making concessions to the leftist rebels, Ariel Avila of Colombia's Peace and Reconciliation Foundation told AFP.
 
But predicted levels of support failed to materialise in some areas. In the state of Huila, a region where the FARC movement was born in the 1960s, the "No" campaign triumphed with a 60.77 per cent vote share. 

And in many urban areas, support for "No" was just as strong. In the state of Antioquia, home to one of Colombia's largest cities Medellin, the "Yes" vote only garnered 37.99 per cent. 

Experts say these unexpected results, combined with the outcome in predicted strongholds, gave "No" its narrow victory by less than half a percent. 

 

As these results emerged, anti-peace deal campaigner and former president Alvaro Uribe tweeted a statement: "It is fundamental that we don't put values like liberty, institutional justice and pluralism at risk in the name of peace." 

Addressing the nation, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: "With the will for peace from all parties, I am sure, sure, that we will be able to soon arrive at satisfactory solutions for everyone. As such, the country will come out of this ahead, and the process will be strengthened.'' 

The FARC also reiterated their commitment to continuing peace talks, saying in a statement that it would "remain faithful" to the peace accord signed last week. 

 

As the Colombian government and the FARC scramble back to their negotiating tables, justice will be at the top of the agenda. 

Many voters felt let down by the terms of the original deal, which would have allowed FARC rebels to escape jail sentences and transition into a political party. 

The result also throws the political future of Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos into doubt. As polls before the vote indicated an easy win for the "Yes" camp, Santos was strongly linked to this year's Nobel Peace Prize. 

But he now faces a struggle to reestablish his political credibility, with his reputation so closely intertwined with the peace process. 

Meanwhile Alvaro Uribe, a key voice for the ''No'' campaign, finds his stock on the rise. The former president will now be looking to build on this blow to his opponent's plans. 

 

As Colombians come to terms with this surprise result, question marks hover over the country's very ability to forgive and forget. 

Five decades of bloodshed have left deep scars in the country's national conscience, which, again, has seen over 220,000 people killed and millions more displaced. 

After 52 years of war and with no sign of a final peace deal on the horizon, those same scars now run a little deeper. 

(WION)

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