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The people of Colombia rejected the peace deal that sought to end the 52-year civil war that has ravaged their country. Nevertheless, President Juan Manuel Santos and his counterpart, rebel leader Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, have extended their cease-fire to the end of the year. During that time, the two men and all those who favor peace must double their efforts to win over more Colombians to support the agreement.

It is estimated that 220,000 people have been killed and 5 million displaced in the civil war that has dominated life in Colombia for more than half a century. Negotiations yielded an agreement that was put to the public for ratification in a referendum at the beginning of this month. It lost by less than half a percentage point.

Opposition to the deal was led by former President Alvaro Uribe, a hard-liner who argued that the agreement was too easy on a group that was as much a criminal gang as a guerrilla force. During the war, the rebels hijacked planes, kidnapped civilians, trafficked in drugs and press-ganged children into becoming soldiers. Uribe and his followers wanted rebels to be punished more harshly for their crimes and they reject an agreement that sets aside 10 seats for them in the National Assembly and provides alternative sentences such as clearing land mines to sitting in prison.

Extension of the cease-fire is a critical first step if the peace process is to survive. Both sides’ readiness to continue the cease-fire, which began in August and was set to expire at the end of October, is proof that they will persevere for peace. Santos’ declaration that “I will not give up, I will continue to fight for peace,” was matched by Echeverri’s statement that his followers remain committed to the peace process.

All Colombians should note that those who suffered most from the conflict seem most ready for peace. Colombians must know that the world stands behind them as they struggle to end their bloody civil war and that the resort to yet more bloodshed is no answer. Colombians must want justice, not retribution or vengeance. This peace agreement offers them that.

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