Feature: Colombians launch campaign for "Yes" to peace referendum

2016-07-17 22:19:46 GMT2016-07-18 06:19:46(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Sylvia B. Zarate and Cesar Marino

BOGOTA, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Supporters of Colombia's peace process and resulting accords with leftist guerrillas launched a campaign over the weekend to promote a "Yes" to peace vote in an upcoming referendum.

After more than three years of negotiations between the government and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), both sides agreed on a plebiscite vote to give the public a say on the agreements.

The exact date or mechanism for the poll has yet to be announced, but with the exception of Colombia's more conservative camps, average Colombians are expected to welcome a deal to end the fighting.

Colombians have generally backed the peace process and celebrated a recent bilateral ceasefire as the most important step yet to end Latin America's longest-running civil war.

Political parties, environmental movements, unions and associations of artists and intellectuals held daylong events on Saturday in the capital Bogota and cities such as Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Popayan, to promote the agreements.

In downtown Bogota, supporters played music and exhibited works of art in favor of a peace deal.

Alirio Uribe, a lawmaker with the left-leaning Democratic Pole party, believes the plebiscite will give Colombians a chance to express their weariness with the conflict.

"In Colombia we are putting an end to a conflict that has lasted more than 50 years and that's why we are making this effort," Uribe told Xinhua about the campaign.

"We are going to provide the social and political support so that peace will be the new path in Colombia, so no one else will again take up arms to do politics, neither the left, nor the center, nor the right," said Uribe.

"We want a normal country, a country where there is no FARC, no ELN (National Liberation Army), where there are no paramilitaries or criminal gangs, and where the army and police respect human rights," said the lawmaker.

Colombia's Patriotic March movement launched its "Yes" campaign on Friday, with the movement's leader, peace activist Piedad Cordoba, describing it as a nationwide celebration to show the "No" camp that they are in the minority.

Victor Manuel Batidez, leader of the Patriotic Unity Party, said he was confident most Colombians will back the peace process.

"We are convinced that this society will declare itself in favor of what is a right and a duty, a human being with self respect wants peace, everything else is barbaric," said Batidez.

"Voting 'No' means declaring yourself in favor of war. For someone who isn't going to go to war (and) who doesn't send his children to war, it's an absurd stance," Batidez said.

Colombia's government and the FARC announced a bilateral ceasefire on June 23 after reaching agreements on several key issues, including agrarian reform, allowing rebels to form a political party or movement after the FARC has disarmed, and reparations for victims of the fighting, among others.

The two sides are expected to sign a definitive peace deal by July 31, paving the way for a plebiscite on the agreements reached.

Colombia's conservative opposition Democratic Center party -- founded by former hardline president Alvaro Uribe -- heads the campaign to reject the peace process, claiming the agreements benefit the rebels, not society at large. Enditem