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Colombia voters nix peace deal

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – A Colombian peace deal that the president and the country’s largest rebel group had signed just days before was defeated in a referendum on Sunday, leaving the fate of a 52-year war suddenly uncertain.

A narrow margin divided the yes-or-no vote, with 50.2 percent of Colombians rejecting the peace deal and 49.8 percent voting in favor, the government said.

The result was a deep embarrassment for President Juan Manuel Santos. Just last week, Mr. Santos had joined arms with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, who apologized on national television during a signing ceremony.

The surprise surge by the “no” vote – nearly all major polls had indicated resounding approval – left the country in a dazed uncertainty not seen since Britain voted in June to leave the European Union. And it left the future of rebels who had planned to rejoin Colombia as civilians – indeed, the future of the war itself, which both sides had declared over – unknown.

Both sides vowed they would not go back to fighting.

Mr. Santos, who appeared humbled by the vote on television on Sunday, said the cease-fire that his government had signed with the FARC would remain in effect. He added that he would soon “convene all political groups,” especially those against the deal, “to open spaces for dialogue and determine how we will go ahead.”

Rodrigo Londoño, the FARC leader, who was preparing to return to Colombia after four years of negotiations in Havana, said he, too, was not interested in more war.

The question voters were asked was simple: “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and construct a stable and enduring peace?” But it was one that had divided this country for generations, as successive governments fought what seemed to be a war without an end and the Marxist FARC rebels dug into the forest for a hopeless insurgency.

To many Colombians who had endured years of kidnappings and killings by the rebels, the agreement was too lenient. It would have allowed most rank-and-file fighters to start lives as normal citizens, and rebel leaders to receive reduced sentences for war crimes.

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