Voters in Colombia have blasted all hopes for a peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.
In contradictory results to opinion polls, Colombians on Sunday voted 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent, with over 99.9 percent of the votes counted, against the peace deal, which was aimed at halting 52 years of bloody conflict with the FARC.
Supporters of the deal had expected it to end to what has been described as the Western hemisphere’s last major conflict.
The results point to the defeat of the deal, which was officially signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Timoleon Jimenez, known as Timochenko, on September 26.
Santos acknowledged that voters had discarded his peace accord with the rebels but promised to keep up efforts to end the conflict.
“The majority has said ‘No,’” he said during a televised speech. “I will not give in and I will continue to seek peace to the last day of my mandate.”
After the vote’s results were announced, Timochenko said that the group maintained its desire for peace despite the referendum’s outcome.
“The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future,” he said. “To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us, peace will triumph,” he added.
Earlier, Colombian government officials announced that there is no plan B if the accord is rejected, stressing that it must be ratified by the nation to be enforced.
Before the referendum, Santos asked the nation to vote for the deal as “peace is the way for our children and grandchildren to have a better country. We Colombians must all play a role in this historic change.”
FARC is the largest rebel group in Colombia and has an estimated 7,000 fighters. It has been at war with the government in Bogota since the guerrilla movement rose to prominence in 1964. So far, more than 220,000 people have been killed in clashes between the two sides and 6.6 million others have been displaced. Moreover, a further 45,000 people are said to be missing.