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Colombians Reject Peace Referendum With FARC Rebels


In Colombia, many people are still shocked and confused by the results of yesterday's referendum. That's when voters narrowly rejected a deal to end Latin America's longest guerrilla war. The Colombian president says his government is still committed to seek peace with the rebels, but it's not clear how that would happen. Reporter John Otis has some more from Colombia's capital, Bogota.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Colombia's peace accord took four years to negotiate. It aims to disarm the FARC guerrillas and end a war that began in the 1960s. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed. Nearly every poll predicted that Sunday's referendum would pass by a wide margin.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Veintidos, veintitres, veinticuatro...

OTIS: But as electoral officials counted ballots, the no vote crept ahead of the yes. The final tally had the no vote winning by less than half a percentage point. Electoral officials said downpours and flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew kept many people on the Caribbean coast from voting. That region strongly supports the peace process. Overall, nearly two thirds of the Colombian electorate stayed home.

JUAN GONZALO VALLEJO: This is a great division.

OTIS: Juan Gonzalo Vallejo is a Bogota business consultant. He lives here because fighting between the Colombian army and the FARC forced his family off their land in northern Colombia.

VALLEJO: We had to leave our farms in Uraba where we had some bananas farms.

OTIS: He voted yes to end the fighting, but he had little company at the ballot box.

VALLEJO: It's incredible that in something that is the most important issue for this country - that is peace - there was a 70 percent abstentionism.

ANDRES GALEANO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Those who did vote like gas station employee Andres Galeano were often motivated by hatred for the guerrillas who committed massive human rights abuses. But in exchange for disarming and confessing to their crimes, the rebels would have been able to avoid prison and receive benefits like temporary cash stipends.

GALEANO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Andres Galeano says, "it's a lot of money for people who don't do anything. These people are killers and terrorists."

Perhaps most surprised of all by Sunday's outcome was President Juan Manuel Santos. It was just last week that he signed the peace accord in an elaborate ceremony attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.



OTIS: Santos assured Colombians that their country would not plunge back into war. He said a bilateral ceasefire put in place two months ago would remain in effect. Government negotiators returned to Havana, Cuba, to resume discussions with FARC representatives. Santos pledged to work with the opposition to salvage the peace accords. That will mean extending a hand to former President Alvaro Uribe, a hardline conservative who led the no campaign.


ALVARO URIBE: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Uribe is insisting on what he calls corrections to the peace agreement. He wants prison time for the worst rebel offenders. He's also miffed about a provision that would give a future FARC-led political party 10 guaranteed seats to Congress for eight years. Many analysts predict the FARC will strongly resist giving up these benefits which were secured through years of tough negotiations.


RODRIGO LONDONO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Speaking from Havana, Cuba, FARC leader Rodrigo Londono blamed Sunday's results on Uribe, whom he accused of spreading hatred. But he promised that at least for now the FARC remains committed to the peace process. For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.