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Church leaders urge peace in Colombia

07 October 2016

Dismay: a supporter of “Si” cries, after the nation voted “No” in a referendum on a peace deal between the government and FARC rebels, in Bogota, on Saturday

Dismay: a supporter of “Si” cries, after the nation voted “No” in a referendum on a peace deal between the government and FARC...

CHURCH leaders have urged the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to continue to work for peace, in the wake of the rejection of the peace deal in a referendum.

The peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC was signed last month after four years of negotiations, halting 50 years of conflict in which more than 220,000 people have been killed (News, 2 September).

The deal was put to the Colombian people in a referendum last weekend and, in a surprise result, it was rejected by a tiny minority — by 50.2 per cent to 48.8 per cent — with a low turnout of 40 per cent.

Those who campaigned for a rejection of the peace deal claimed that it was too generous to the FARC rebels, giving those who confessed to crimes more lenient sentences, and paying demobilised rebels a monthly stipend.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tunja and President of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, the Rt Revd Luis Augusto Castro, called on both sides to reiterate their commitment to peace, and said that the result would not affect a papal visit scheduled for next year. He told the Colombian radio station Caracol: “There is an enormous need of reconciliation in the country, that’s very clear. This is a moment in which the politicians especially need to be very prudent in what they say, and how they analyse the result.”

Rebel leaders and the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, have said that they will continue to work for peace in the wake of the result, although the President has said the current ceasefire will expire at the end of this month.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said: “Not under any circumstance should we say no to peace. The possibilities for a better, peaceful future for Colombia are greater and more important than any reason that could justify the negative to the agreement signed by the government and the FARC.”

And the RC charity CAFOD’s Colombia programme officer, Ulrike Beck, said: “Alongside our partners in Colombia, we will continue our efforts to work for peace: a peace which the Church has been working for and pursuing for decades.

“At this time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to protect human-rights defenders and those who have been working for peace. Since the start of the peace talks, they have faced increased threats and attacks. In the last month, since the agreement was finalised in late August, more than 20 human-rights defenders have been killed.

“The Church itself has been a courageous and outspoken defender of human rights, and has been directly supporting the countless thousands of victims of the conflict.”


Nobel Peace Prize for Colombia's president Santos

THE President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring an end to his nation's simmering civil war. 

The Norwegian committee which awards the Prize each year praised the peace deal Mr Santos forged with FARC, despite the agreement being narrowly rejected in a referendum last week.

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end," said committee chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five.

"The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people," she added. 

Government negotiators have returned to Havana, Cuba, to re-start talks with FARC representatives after the referendum. 

Mr Santos's recognition was a surprise given his failure to persuade the Colombian people to back his hard-fought peace deal.

Syria Civil Defence, known as the White Helmets, were considered to be among the front-runners to win this year's Peace Prize. The organisation has become well-known for its heroics in sending its volunteers into bombed-out rubble in Syria to rescue survivors of air strikes.

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