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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, with the Nobel committee commending his “resolute efforts to bring the 50-year long civil war to an end”.
The award comes after last week’s referendum result, in which Colombian voters narrowly rejected the government’s peace agreement with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
But the Nobel committee said Mr Santos’s efforts had brought the search for a permanent peace “significantly closer” despite the referendum result.
The committee said he had “consistently sought to move the peace process forward”.
The committee acknowledged there was “real danger the peace process will come to a halt and the civil war will flare up again”. But it said the prize was an effort to “encourage” all those trying to achieve peace, justice and reconciliation in Colombia.
Mr Santos, 65, comes from an elite Columbian family. His father owned the country’s biggest newspaper, El Tiempo, and his great uncle served as president in the 1930s. But following his election in 2010, Mr Santos told the FT that his family had opposed his entry into politics. “I think I am president in spite of, not because of my surname,” he said.
Mr Santos made his name in politics as a supporter of his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, who later emerged as leader of the opposition to the peace deal. Mr Santos served as minister of defence in the Uribe administration from 2006 to 2009 and earned Mr Uribe’s endorsement in the 2010 election.
But on taking office, Mr Santos shifted away from Mr Uribe’s hardline approach to dealing with Farc, changing the government’s slogan from “democratic security” to “democratic prosperity.” In the recent referendum campaign Mr Uribe labelled Mr Santos a “Castro-Chavista” and Farc as “narco-terrorists”.
The opposition campaign successfully tapped into widespread popular hatred of the leftist guerrillas, who have committed atrocities over five decades. Opponents of the deal argued that the proposed transitional justice system for rebel leaders was too lenient. They also opposed allowing former Farc members to participate in politics.
The Nobel committee said on Friday that the rejection of the deal “does not mean the peace process is dead”. It said the vote was “not a vote for or against peace, but for a specific peace agreement”.
The committee said the prize was a tribute to those Colombians who had not given up hope of a just peace, and to the countless victims of the civil war.
The announcement was made on Friday morning at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway.
There were 376 candidates for the Peace Prize this year, of which 228 were individuals and 148 organisations. This is by far the largest number of candidates — the previous highest being 278 in 2014.