Colombian voters have shocked the world by narrowly rejecting a peace agreement with Farc rebels. The “no” vote carried Sunday’s referendum, garnering 50.24% of the ballots cast.
The peace deal to end a six-decades long civil war was signed last week by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Farc leaders. It was the culmination of four years of intense negotiations.
By Colombian law, the agreement needed public approval to go into affect.
Post-election interviews indicated that voters rejected terms of the agreement that granted amnesty to the rebels who had agreed to lay down their arms. Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe led the “no” campaign, saying it gave too many concessions to Farc.
In a Sunday afternoon address to the nation, President Santos acknowledged the loss but said he would continue working to achieve peace. He said the current ceasefire remained in place and that he had ordered negotiators to travel to Cuba to consult Farc leaders on the next move. Cuba and Ecuador have helped moderate the negotiations between the two sides.
“I won’t give up,” he said. “I’ll continue the search for peace until the last moment of my mandate because that’s the way to leave a better country to our children.”
Meanwhile the Farc leader, known as Timochenko, said the group remained committed to securing an end to the war.
He also criticized the “no” campaign.
“The Farc deeply regret that the destructive power of those who sow hatred and revenge have influenced the Colombian people’s opinion,” he told reporters.
The rebels earlier agreed to lay down their weapons after 52 years of conflict to join the political process.
But critics said the deal treated the Farc, which the US still considers a terrorist group, too leniently.
The deal would have allowed rebel leaders to avoid a prison sentence if they confessed their crimes. The rebels were also promised 10 seats in congress for the next two elections.