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World

Colombian President Wins Nobel Peace Prize After Failed Peace Deal

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Juan Manuel Santos won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for signing an agreement to end Colombia's 52-year-old guerrilla war. There is, of course, just one problem. There is no longer a peace agreement. Voters rejected it in a referendum last Sunday. New negotiations could take months or years. But in the areas hardest hit by the war, many people hope today's Nobel announcement could be the spark that moves the peace process along. Reporter John Otis tells us more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOWARD VALENCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: In the southern Colombian town of San Vicente del Caguan, many residents learned that their president won the Nobel by listening to the main radio station. It's run by the Colombian army. Indeed, the town has a huge military presence. That's because San Vicente del Caguan is located in a traditional stronghold of the FARC rebels, who've been negotiating with the Santos government. Howard Valencia is an army sergeant and a DJ at the station who broadcast today's news of the Nobel.

VALENCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Before taking over the station, he had numerous close calls with the FARC. Valencia recalls a narrow escape when rebels destroyed their trench with a homemade bomb.

VALENCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: During the height of the war, he says army soldiers feared traveling on the roads leading in and out of town because there were so many rebel attacks and kidnappings. But San Vicente is no longer a hot zone. Under the peace process, a cease-fire has dramatically reduced violence. That has led to a revival. New shops and hotels are going up.

RAQUEL RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Raquel Rivera, who is 26, abandoned the town a decade ago after the guerrillas killed her uncle who was helping the army guard a bridge. But she came back two months ago to open a store that sells motorcycle helmets to the growing population. Rivera voted in favor of the peace process in last Sunday's referendum, as did a vast majority of San Vicente residents.

RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She says the areas that were hardest hit by the war are the areas that most want this peace to happen. But the peace agreement is now in limbo. Because the no vote triumphed, it's unclear whether thousands of FARC rebels, some of whom are encamped in the mountains in Savannah surrounding San Vicente, will turn in their weapons or go back to war. That possibility haunts people here because they've seen this movie before. The last round of peace talks with the FARC were launched in 1998 here in San Vicente. But they collapsed, leading to thousands more deaths, landmine victims and kidnappings.

EDELBERTO ALVAREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Among the victims were the two sons of cattle rancher Edelberto Alvarez. They were killed by the FARC because they refused to hand over extortion payments to the rebels. I meet Alvarez at a crowded center for war victims where people apply for government benefits. He was crushed when the no vote triumphed in the referendum. Now opposition politicians are demanding to renegotiate the peace treaty. In fact, the entire peace process seemed in dire straits until this morning's announcement that President Santos had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

ALVAREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Alvarez says, "we have faith in God that there will be a solution. That's what everyone wants." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in San Vicente del Caguan, Colombia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.