Colombians march to save peace deal

A youth holds a Colombian flag during a rally for peace in Bogota, Colombia, on Wednesday. Picture by Fernando Vergara, Associated Press
Joshua Goodman, Press Association

THOUSANDS carrying candles and waving white flags and handkerchiefs have marched through Colombia's capital demanding that the political establishment and left-wing rebels must not give up on a peace deal narrowly rejected by voters.

The March for Peace was organised on social media by student groups and social movements on the losing end in Sunday's national referendum.

Many walked silently in Bogota, while some carried pictures of loved ones among the 220,000 killed during the half-century conflict involving the military, rebels and right-wing militias.

"Peace can't be delayed forever," said demonstrator, Carlos Charry, a 37-year-old sociologist. "It's time everyone understands that we can't keep repeating the same mistakes of the past 52 years."

The march came as President Juan Manuel Santos embarked on talks with the opposition to try to save the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - FARC.

Earlier in the day Mr Santos met his predecessor as president, Alvaro Uribe, who led opposition to the deal with the Farc. They talked privately for several hours, announcing only that they agreed to form a commission that will begin meeting on Thursday to evaluate ways to improve the accord.

The conservative Mr Uribe helped win the presidency for Mr Santos, his defence minister, but the two later split and had not met since 2011.

Mr Uribe's campaign against the peace deal capitalised on widespread hatred of the Farc, denouncing provisions to spare rebels who committed atrocities time in jail and to give the group's future political movement 10 seats in congress.

Although Farc leaders have said they have no intention of returning to the battlefield and have been encouraging Colombians to make their voices in support of peace be heard, it is not clear they are willing to reopen talks. If they do, Mr Uribe will almost certainly push for stiffer penalties.

Farc commander Timochenko said on Tuesday the referendum results have "no legal effect whatsoever", citing the fact that the "final" accord had already been signed and deposited with the Swiss Federal Council in Bern as a special humanitarian agreement under the Geneva Conventions.

Political marches are rare in Colombia, a reflection in part of an elite-driven political system that fuelled apathy and left many Colombians marginalised. Turnout for Sunday's referendum was barely 37%, less than many congressional elections.

"We need peace no matter what it takes," said Jennifer Lopez, a 28-year-old teacher who said a cousin had been kidnapped years ago by the Farc.

"The meeting between Santos and Uribe shouldn't have been behind closed doors. All the Colombian people should know what they're deciding."


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