Colombian President Wins Nobel Prize for Peace Efforts

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end the half-century war with FARC rebels, sparking a new pledge to salvage a peace deal rejected by the people.

The award was a surprise, coming just five days after Colombian voters shot down the historic accord Santos signed last month with FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, alias Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez.

But the prize appeared to encourage the peacemakers, with the government and rebels vowing to continue a ceasefire and discuss changes to the agreement "to give guarantees to all."

The Norwegian Nobel committee said the award recognized Santos' "resolute efforts" to bring Latin America's longest war to end and hailed his decision to put the peace deal to the people despite knowing it was controversial.

Some observers expressed surprise the FARC leader was not jointly honored by the award. 

But Jimenez congratulated his former enemy and said the only prize the Marxist guerrillas wanted was "peace with social justice for Colombia.. peace in the streets."

Nobel committee chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five paid tribute to other players in the peace process, without mentioning FARC.

"By awarding this year's Peace Prize to President Juan Manuel Santos, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to encourage all those who are striving to achieve peace, reconciliation and justice in Colombia," she said.

- 'Encourage initiatives' -

The deal, signed with pens made from bullet casings on September 26 after nearly four years of talks, was supposed to be ratified following an October 2 referendum but voters rejected it, leaving Colombia teetering between war and peace.

The Nobel committee said the award's aim was to bolster peace efforts that were now in "real danger" of collapse, with the risk of civil war flaring again.

"We hope that it will encourage all good initiatives and all the parties who could make a difference in the peace process and give Colombia -- finally -- a peace after decades of war," Kullmann Five said.

Santos said he was honored by the award, which he dedicated to "all Colombians, especially the millions of victims of this conflict that we have suffered for more than 50 years".

In remarks to the Nobel Foundation, the 65-year-old also said the award was "a great stimulus" in the quest for peace.

"The message is that we have to persevere and reach the end of this war. We are very, very close, we just need to push a bit further."

- Anger over impunity -

Colombia's five-decade conflict has killed more than 260,000 people, left 45,000 missing and forced nearly seven million to flee their homes.

Under the terms of the deal, FARC was to relaunch as a political party, but the agreement was struck down following a successful campaign by rightwing hardliners angered by the offer of impunity for the rebels.

Since Sunday's referendum defeat, Santos has opened a national dialogue to chart the way forward, with both sides scrambling to salvage the four-year peace process. 

And just hours after the award, the two sides released a joint statement saying they would "continue listening" to opponents of the deal and discuss changes "to give guarantees to all."

- 'No turning back' - 

Colombia's former leader Alvaro Uribe, who led opposition to the agreement, congratulated Santos, saying he hoped the award would encourage "changes" to the deal.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the prize came at "a critical moment" and proved Colombia had come "too far (along the path to peace) to turn back."

Nobel watchers had initially tipped both Santos and Jimenez as likely winners, and Ingrid Betancourt, who was held by FARC guerrillas for six years, said the rebel leader should have shared the prize.

"Yes... it's very hard for me to say yes... but I think so," she told France's iTele.

She described the award as an "extraordinary boost" to the peace process, in comments to Colombia's Blu Radio.

"It drowns and diminishes the voices of those who wanted to see the peace process aborted."

Asked why the FARC leader was not honored, Kullman Five said: "We will never comment on other candidates and other possibilities."

- Honoring former enemies -

But some experts said it was not surprising the committee had chosen to recognize only Santos. 

"A prize to FARC would have probably been poorly received by those who are sceptical about the peace agreement, and this therefore reduces the risk of the prize having a negative impact," said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of Oslo's Peace Research Institute.

The Nobel committee has in the past honored former enemies for peace processes at fragile stages, including those in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. 

The peace award is the fourth Nobel to be announced this week, with the economics prize to be announced Monday, and the final prize, for literature, to be unveiled on Thursday. 

The peace prize is a gold medal, a diploma and a check for eight million Swedish kronor (around $932,000/831,000 euros) which will be presented at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.

Source: Agence France Presse

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