Colombian government, rebels rally to save peace deal

Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC guerrillas will scramble on Monday to revive a plan to end their 52-year war after voters rejected the hard-negotiated deal as too lenient on the rebels in a shock result that plunged the nation into uncertainty.

Putting on a brave face after a major political defeat, President Juan Manuel Santos offered hope to those who backed his four-year peace negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Cuba.

Latin America’s longest conflict has killed 220,000 people.

“I will not give up, I will keep seeking peace until the last minute of my term,” he said moments after losing Sunday’s plebiscite to those who want a re-negotiation of the deal or an obliteration of the FARC on the battlefield.

Santos, whose term ends mid-2018, plans to meet all political parties on Monday.

He is also sending lead government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle back to Havana to speak to the FARC leadership.

Rodrigo Londono, the top FARC commander better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, also offered reassurance the rebels remain committed to becoming a peaceful political party.

“The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future,” Timochenko said after the result. “Count on us, peace will triumph.”

Disappointed Latin American neighbors urged Colombia not to give up on peace. With Chile, Cuba, and Venezuela acting as guarantors and observers of the negotiations in Havana, the region had been closely involved with the deal.

“We’re saddened by the slim victory for ‘No’,” said Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long, after the peace deal was rejected by a razor-thin margin of less than half a percentage point or only 54,000 votes.

“Colombia must keep seeking the road to peace.”