Bogota, Oct 6 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said peace with the FARC rebels is "close," but his top opponent demanded an overhaul of a "weak" deal rejected by voters in a referendum.
Seeking to salvage the peace process on which he has staked his legacy, Santos yesterday held a meeting with his predecessor and former boss, Alvaro Uribe, who has branded him a traitor for negotiating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The tension between the two men has taken center stage since Colombians unexpectedly voted "No" Sunday to the deal, which sought to end half a century of conflict with the Marxist guerrillas. Santos - who also held talks with former president Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), another leading opponent of the deal - tried to sound upbeat after the meetings at the presidential palace. "Peace in Colombia is close, and we will achieve it," he said in a national address.
He vowed to work with the "No" camp to "find a path that allows us not only to conclude the peace accord with the FARC, but to strengthen it." Uribe (2002-2010), a right-wing hardliner who scored a major victory with the shock referendum result, sounded less conciliatory.
"It's better to achieve peace for all Colombians than a weak accord for half the nation's citizens," the opposition senator told journalists after the meeting. He criticized the deal signed on September 26 for granting "total impunity" for rebel crimes and allowing guerrillas guilty of gross human rights violations to run for elected office.
He said he had given Santos a list of "adjustments and initial proposals" to incorporate into a new deal. He also asked for the "understanding and support" of the international community - much of which was taken aback by the referendum result. Santos will face the challenge of selling any changes to the deal to the FARC.
He has already sent his chief peace negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, back to Cuba - where the peace talks were held - to see whether rebel leaders are open to revising the deal. The United States, a key ally of Colombia, has also sent its special envoy for the peace process, Bernie Aronson, back to Havana, the State Department said.