(Adds former president Uribe)
By Helen Murphy and Julia Symmes Cobb
BOGOTA Oct 2 Colombians narrowly rejected a
peace deal with Marxist guerrillas in a referendum on Sunday,
plunging the nation into uncertainty and dashing President Juan
Manuel Santos' painstakingly negotiated plan to end the 52-year
The surprise victory for the "no" camp poured cold water on
international joy, from the White House to the Vatican, at what
had seemed to be the end of the longest-running conflict in the
The "no" camp won by 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent. Voter
turnout was only 37 percent, perhaps partly owing to torrential
rain through the country.
Both sides in the war immediately sought to reassure the
world they would try to revive their peace plan.
Santos, 65, said a ceasefire already negotiated would remain
in place. He vowed to sit down on Monday with the victorious
"no" camp to discuss the way forward, and send his chief
negotiator back to Cuba to meet with FARC rebel leaders.
"I will not give up, I will keep seeking peace until the
last day of my term because that is the way to leave a better
nation for our children," said Santos, who cannot seek
re-election when his second term ends in August 2018.
The commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,
or FARC, known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko, gave a similar
message from Havana, where peace negotiations have taken place
over the last four years.
"The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a
weapon to build toward the future," said Timochenko, whose real
name is Rodrigo Londono. "To the Colombian people who dream of
peace, count on us, peace will triumph."
Santos recently said a "no" vote would mean a return to war,
and opinion polls had predicted he would win comfortably.
Traditionally conservative Colombian voters, in favor of
peace in principle but unhappy at perceived soft treatment for
the guerrillas, confounded those forecasts.
Opponents of the pact believed it was too lenient on the
FARC rebels by allowing them to re-enter society, form a
political party and escape jail sentences.
"I voted no. I don't want to teach my children that
everything can be forgiven," said Bogota engineer Alejandro
Opponents want a renegotiation of the deal with rebel
leaders serving jail time and receiving no free seats in
"We all want peace, no one wants violence," said influential
former president Alvaro Uribe who led the "No" campaign. "We
insist on corrections so there is respect for the
constitution... We want to contribute to a national accord and
"No" voters appeared to have been more highly motivated on
Sunday. And some Colombians may have felt pressured to tell
pollsters they were voting for peace despite private doubts.
Regions still riven by the conflict, including poor areas
along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, voted resoundingly in
favor of the deal, but formerly violent interior regions
pacified during the Uribe presidency backed the "no" camp.
The rebels, whose numbers were halved to about 7,000 in
recent years because of a U.S.-backed military offensive, had
agreed to turn in weapons and fight for power at the ballot box
Under the accord, the FARC, which began as a peasant revolt
in 1964, would have been able to compete in the 2018
presidential and legislative elections and have 10 unelected
congressional seats guaranteed through 2026.
It would also have given up its role in the lucrative
illegal drug trade and taken part in reforming rural Colombia.
But controversially, many rebel leaders who ordered
killings, bombings and displacements would have had to appear
before a special tribunal that could sentence them to
alternative punishments like clearing landmines.
For decades, the FARC bankrolled the longest-running
conflict in the Americas through the illegal drug trade,
kidnapping and extortion.
Battles between the guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug gangs
and the army raged in the countryside and there were atrocities
committed on all sides.
The conflict took more than 220,000 lives and displaced
millions of people. At one stage, the FARC was positioned close
to the capital and the state was on the verge of collapse.
Supporters of the peace deal were stunned by the plebiscite
"How sad. It seems Colombia has forgotten about the cruelty
of war, our deaths, our injured, our mutilated, our victims and
the suffering we've all lived through with this war," said
Adriana Rivera, 43, a philosophy professor standing tearfully at
the hotel of the "yes" campaign.
The vote was a disaster for Santos, who had hoped to turn
his focus quickly to other matters including possible talks with
the smaller ELN rebel group, a much-needed tax reform and other
economic measures to compensate for a drop in oil income.
The government had hoped peace would lead to a boom in
investment by commodities investors, in gold mines, oil and
agriculture in Latin America's fourth-largest economy.
After Sunday's vote, companies will be rethinking the
Although the "no" camp has broached the idea of fresh talks,
the FARC has said no group sits at a negotiating table to agree
to jail time.
"Today will be remembered by history as the moment Colombia
turned its back on what could have been the end of a war that
for more than 50 years devastated millions of lives," said Erika
Guevara-Rosas, Americas director for rights group Amnesty
International. "Even though it was imperfect, the accord was a
sure path to peace and justice."
(Reporting by Helen Murphy and Julia Symmes Cobb; Additional
reporting by Carlos Vargas and Monica Garcia; Editing by Andrew
Cawthorne, Kieran Murray and Peter Cooney)