OSLO, Norway (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a five-decades-long civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people in the South American country.
The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace deal that Santos helped bring about.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that rejection doesn’t mean the peace process is dead.
“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” it said. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”
The committee did not cite Santos’ counterpart in the peace negotiations, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Santos and Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the peace deal last month, ending a half-century of hostilities, only to see a major setback in the shock vote against the agreement in a referendum six days later.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes that Santos, “despite the ‘No’ majority vote in the referendum, 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.”
The agreement was reached during more than five years of at first secret negotiations in Cuba.
Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the FARC’s biggest military setbacks. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.
Under the peace deal he negotiated, rebels who turn over their weapons and confess to war crimes will be spared time in jail and the FARC will get 10 seats in congress through 2026 to smooth their transition into a political movement.