Colombia peace deal 'ray of hope' to others

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos collected the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in Oslo for his efforts to end a 52-year civil war with Marxist rebels.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos collected the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in Oslo for his efforts to end a 52-year civil war with Marxist rebels.PHOTO: REUTERS

OSLO • Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said an accord to end a 52-year civil war with Marxist rebels was a "ray of hope" for solving conflicts from Syria to South Sudan as he collected the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday.

In an acceptance speech that quoted an anti-war song by Bob Dylan, the 2016 literature laureate, Mr Santos said Colombia itself had drawn inspiration from other peace processes, such as those in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

Mr Santos collected the prize - a gold medal, diploma and a cheque for 8 million kronor (S$1.2 million) at a ceremony in Oslo's city hall for his efforts to end the conflict with the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

The civil war has killed more than 260,000 people, left 45,000 missing and forced nearly seven million to flee their homes.

"The Colombian peace agreement is a ray of hope in a world troubled by so many conflicts and so much intolerance," he said, saying a US academic study called it the most comprehensive of 34 peace accords signed in the past three decades.

"It proves that what, at first, seems impossible, through perseverance may become possible even in Syria or Yemen or South Sudan," he told an audience, including victims of the war as well as Norway's King Harald V.

The peace deal almost collapsed in October after Colombian voters rejected it in a referendum, reckoning the first version was too lenient on the rebels.

A revised deal was approved by Congress last month, but controversially without a referendum demanded by a big opposition party.

Ms Berit Reiss-Andersen, a member of the five-member award committee, said in a speech that Mr Santos had been "a driving force" and that the peace process needed "all the international support it could get" after the referendum.

Hours before accepting the Nobel prize, Mr Santos said he could offer no guarantees there would be a peace deal in place with Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army, before the end of his mandate in 2018.

In his acceptance speech later, Mr Santos quoted what he called a "haunting question" from one of Dylan's most famous songs: "How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind."

The other 2016 prizes - for literature, medicine, physics, chemistry and economics - will be presented later in Stockholm.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Colombia peace deal 'ray of hope' to others'. Print Edition | Subscribe