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Colombia

Thousands demonstrate for peace in Colombia

The rejection of the Colombian peace deal has sent both parties back to the negotiating table. Tobias Käufer spoke with people on the street, who were calling for agreement and reconciliation.

 "We are here for peace. Together. We are on the side of the yes camp and not the side of the noes. We are standing for peace in our country," says Laura Torres, 24, a student from the Colombian capital Bogota. She is wearing a white T-shirt and has a candle in her hand - like almost all of the thousands of mainly young people that have joined the march for peace. They hope to inject new energy into their country's peace movement after a slender majority of Colombians voted against a peace treaty between their government and FARC rebels in a recent referendum.

The vote was held after four years of peace negotiations. Those voting against the treaty were upset by what they saw as lenient punishments for grave crimes committed by leftist FARC rebels, as well as their integration into the country's political structure.

Torres wants a political solution, a reconciliation between both camps. The no camp's razor-thin referendum victory has created a profound polarization in Colombia. But Torres believes it has also sounded an alarm. "We have to find a way to reach a common agreement that all can sign."

That is also Santiago Jaimes' motivation. Speaking with DW, the 26-year-old student said that common ground was needed to establish peace: "Both sides want a peace treaty with FARC. The yes camp, and the no camp. Now we have to find a compromise." Jaimes is wearing a white headband with the word "Paz" (peace) on it. 

Kolumbien Friedensdemo (Kaeufer/Moser)

Just peace - that is what the students want

New dynamism and an important meeting

The no vote has given new energy to the debate over a lasting solution to the conflict. Ex-president Alvaro Uribe's arrival at the presidential palace, for instance, caused a great amount of commotion. Uribe, a rightwing hardliner who served as Colombia's president from 2002 to 2010, is the peace treaty's most prominent opponent. Now, after his camp's referendum victory, the government expects concrete proposals from him. Hundreds of journalists awaited Uribe's emergency meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos with great anticipation. It was the first face-to-face meeting between these two former political colleagues in almost six years.

Kolumbien Juan Manuel Santos und Alvaro Uribe (Picture-Alliance/E. Herrera/Colombia's presidencial press office)

Talks continue: President Santos (right) with Uribe, the most prominent man against the peace deal

After the meeting, Santos gives thanks for the fact that, "Uribe and his companions are available" to help find a way out of the crisis. And Uribe stands by Santos' proposal of putting corrections into the treaty: "It's better to achieve peace for all Colombians than a weak accord for half the nation's citizens." But that is not enough for Bogota's still-popular ex-mayor Antanas Mockus. He has called for Uribe to finally do something more than constantly criticize the deal. With the referendum, the people have essentially commissioned him to become actively involved in the peace process.

Kolumbien Friedensdemo (Kaeufer/Moser)

The numbers are clear - Colombia wants peace

A lot depends on FARC

President Santos is now faced with the difficult task of reopening the package he negotiated with FARC, and confronting the group with Uribe's new demands. Minister of Foreign Affairs Maria Angela Holguin is not very optimistic about the prospects. "FARC is not going to put down its weapons in order to go to jail," she warns. But peace negotiations cannot move forward without the rebels, she adds.    

At the end of an exciting day in Bogota, students Santiago Jaimes and Laura Torres have little time for such details. Now they are headed to the city's most important square, Plaza Bolivar, alongside a mass of people with candles in hand chanting "peace treaty now." It seems the peace movement that Colombia sorely needed for so long, is finally beginning to emerge.

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