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Colombian president deeply honoured after winning Nobel Peace Prize

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos Picture by Ricardo Mazalan/AP
By Mark Lewis and Karl Ritter, in Oslo

COLOMBIAN president Juan Manuel Santos has said he is deeply honoured to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end a five-decade civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people.

"I receive this with great emotion," he told the Nobel Foundation in an audio interview posted on its Facebook account.

"This is a great, great recognition for my country. I am eternally grateful.

"I receive this award in their name: the Colombian people who have suffered so much in this war. Especially the millions of victims that have suffered in this war that we are on the verge of ending."

The award comes days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal Mr Santos helped bring about, and Nobel judges conspicuously left out his counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc)

"The referendum was not a vote for or against peace," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, insisting the peace process was not dead.

"What the No side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement."

Colombian voters rejected the deal on Sunday by the narrowest of margins - less than half a percentage point - over concerns that the rebels, who were behind scores of atrocities, were getting a sweetheart deal.

Under the terms of the accord, rebels who turn over their weapons and confess their crimes could be spared jail time and Farc would be guaranteed 10 seats in congress until 2026.

Mr Santos and Mr Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the peace deal last month after more than four years of negotiations in Cuba. Six days after the deal was signed, Colombians rejected it in the referendum.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes Mr Santos, despite the No vote, "has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution".

It said the award should also be seen "as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process".

As defence minister a decade ago, Mr Santos was responsible for some of Farc's biggest military setbacks. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a senior rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.

Mr Santos and Mr Londono met only twice during the entire peace process: last year when they put the final touches on the most controversial section of the accord – the part dealing with how guerrillas would be punished for war crimes – and last month to sign the accord before an audience of world leaders and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

The Colombian vote on Sunday was also seen as a referendum of sorts on Mr Santos, who has staked his presidency on securing peace but in the process, critics say, neglected the economy and other pressing issues. His approval rating in July was near the lowest it has been since he took office in 2010.

Prize committee chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five said Mr Santos (65) has made clear that he will continue to work for peace in Colombia.

"The committee hopes that the peace prize will give him strength to succeed in this demanding task," she said.

Committee secretary Olav Njoelstad said there was "broad consensus" on picking Mr Santos as this year's peace laureate.

It is the first time the peace prize has gone to Latin America since 1992, when the committee rewarded Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu.

A record 376 candidates were nominated for this year's award, which carries a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor (£745,000).

Last year's peace prize went to Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet for its efforts to build a pluralistic democracy.

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