Colombia's Santos dedicates Nobel prize to conflict victims

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dedicated his Nobel Peace Prize Friday to the victims of his country's civil war, which he has worked to end through a contested peace accord with communist rebels.

"I am infinitely and whole-heartedly grateful for this honor," he said in a televised address.

"I receive it not in my own name, but in the name of all Colombians, especially the millions of victims of this conflict that we have suffered for more than 50 years."

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

Speaking just five days after voters narrowly rejected his peace deal with the FARC rebels in a referendum, Santos urged Colombians not to give up on peace.

"We must reconcile with each other and unite to complete this process, and begin building a stable and lasting peace," he said from the presidential palace.

His top rival, Alvaro Uribe -- a former president who has led the campaign against the peace deal signed on September 26 -- congratulated Santos on the award.

But he added that he hoped the prize would encourage "changes" to the deal.

A right-wing hardliner who was Santos's predecessor and former boss, Uribe has argued the deal is too soft on the guerrillas.

He claims it offers them impunity for their crimes and would put Colombia on the path of "Castro-Chavismo" -- a reference to the far-left governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

- Colombians awake to news -

The third key player in the fragile peace process, Timoleon Jimenez, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), meanwhile said the only award the guerrillas want is peace.

Jimenez, whose real name is Rodrigo Londono, was notably not named a co-recipient of the Nobel.

"The only prize we aspire to is peace with social justice for Colombia, without (right-wing) paramilitary groups, without retaliation (against leftist rebels) or lies. Peace in the streets," he wrote on Twitter.

He later tweeted his congratulations to Santos, his co-signatory on the peace deal concluded after nearly four years of negotiations in Cuba.

Colombians woke up to the news Friday, and it remains to be seen how it will affect the peace process.

Santos said his son Martin woke him "very early" to tell him of the Nobel committee's decision in Oslo.

The president, who has staked his legacy on making peace, has been left battling on two fronts by Sunday's shock referendum result, which flew in the face of opinion polls.

He must placate the hardliners in Uribe's camp while persuading the FARC to accept changes to the deal.

He has warned the country is in a "dangerous" limbo in the meantime.

This week, he said the army would end its ongoing ceasefire with the FARC at the end of the month if no solution is found -- although he later said it could be extended if necessary.

The FARC -- a Marxist guerrilla group launched in 1964 -- has vowed it is committed to upholding the ceasefire.

But its fighters, who were due to disarm under the peace deal, are now redeploying to their hideouts in Colombia's mountains and jungles.

FARC commander Pastor Alape said the order aimed to avoid "provocations" from opponents of the peace deal.