Colombian War Victim Denounces Lack of ‘Solidarity’ After Peace Deal Rejected

Four days after Colombians narrowly voted to reject a peace deal with FARC rebels to end 52 years of war, community leader Leyner Palacios is still struggling to contain his bitterness over the outcome.

Palacios, who is from the jungle town of Bojaya in western Colombia, which has borne the brunt of guerrilla violence, says he and other residents, mostly from Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, feel betrayed by fellow Colombians.

He accuses those who voted against the deal – many of them living in cities that escaped the worst of the insurgency – of a lack of empathy for people like him.

«We are shocked by the result. We are very sad and disappointed,» said Palacios, who lost 32 relatives and friends in 2002 after a cylinder bomb fired by FARC rebels hit a church sheltering villagers fleeing the conflict.

«We thought the part of society that has been least affected by the war would have shown solidarity towards those who have,» said Palacios, who was one of dozens of war victims to travel to Cuba to give testimony at peace talks being held there.

«We expected more understanding. The urban population doesn’t see or feel the war like we do,» he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos talks during a news conference after a meeting with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at Narino Palace in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 5, 2016.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos talks during a news conference after a meeting with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at Narino Palace in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 5, 2016.

Sunday’s referendum result prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to send negotiators to Havana to meet rebel commanders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and triggered crisis talks with the leader of the «No» campaign, Alvaro Uribe, an opposition rival and former president.

Santos said on Tuesday a government ceasefire put in place in August would be extended until Oct. 31 to allow time to salvage the deal to end a war that has killed 200,000 people and displaced nearly 7 million.

FARC commanders have said they will remain «faithful» to the accord which sets out their disarmament.

«Repeat of Tragedy»

For the past two years, farmers in Bojaya have been growing crops again. Palacios said rebels in the area had stopped planting landmines, extorting locals and recruiting child soldiers under a unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC.

«We had started to experience what peace would be like,» Palacios said.

Despite having been caught in the crossfire, 96 percent of Bojaya’s residents voted to back the peace accord.

Many other voters living in Colombia’s impoverished rural and border areas battered by the conflict, also voted ‘Yes».

But voters in Colombia’s more urban and developed central provinces tended to reject the accord. For example, in Medellin, Colombia’s second biggest city, 63 percent of voters rejected the peace deal.

Palacios, who met several FARC commanders when they visited Bojaya to ask for forgiveness, said the guerilla group recognized their responsibility for the massacre in the town.

«They have changed their behavior towards the community. This has allowed the community to gain trust in the FARC,» he said.

Opponents of the deal say they want an end to the war but cannot accept some of the terms agreed on, including guaranteed congressional seats for the FARC and immunity for rebel commanders.

The future of the deal may hang on whether the FARC will accept tougher conditions for demobilization, perhaps combined with a softening of Uribe’s hard-line demands which include ensuring FARC commanders serve time in jail, analysts said.

«The peace deal was our opportunity for peace. It was a chance we could live in peace. We had hoped the FARC would have started to disarm by now,» Palacios said. «For us the «No» vote means that we are again exposed to repeating the tragedy of Bojaya that will lived through.»