Colombia leader lashes back at critics of his peace effort

AP News
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Posted: Apr 21, 2015 10:04 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — President Juan Manuel Santos lashed out on Tuesday at opponents he accuses of fueling a wave of booing that has greeted him in the days since a deadly attack by leftist guerrillas dealt a major setback to negotiations with Colombia's biggest rebel movement.

To shouts of "liar" and "get out," Santos was loudly jeered by dozens of spectators at a 10-kilometer run Sunday in Bogota to benefit soldiers wounded in combat. The frenzied scene repeated itself when he visited Medellin the next day.

Santos addressed his critics directly Tuesday, urging them to listen to other voices instead of just trying to drown out his. He said he is open to criticism but won't be deterred by those opposing his peace efforts, among them his predecessor as president, Alvaro Uribe.

"You can follow me all around the country and try to sabotage every event I attend, but I won't be detained in my pursuit of peace for Colombia," Santos said at the opening of Bogota's book fair, where he was greeted with warm applause and a feared attempt by protesters to disrupt his appearance did not materialize.

Santos was re-elected last year promising to secure a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and end 50 years of fighting. Polls say recent advances, such as an agreement to jointly remove land mines, had convinced a majority Colombians for the first time that an accord was within reach.

But Colombians' patience with the FARC has always been tenuous, with many recalling the previous attempt at peace more than a decade ago when the rebels took advantage of a Switzerland-size demilitarized zone ceded by the government to rearm and launch attacks.

Anger boiled over last week after a rebel unit killed 11 soldiers in an attack on an army platoon sleeping in a rural hamlet. Outraged Colombians saw it as a clear violation of a unilateral truce declared by the FARC in December to facilitate talks. Rebel leaders blamed the government for not joining in the truce and continuing to pursue rebels on the battlefield.

Santos warned the FARC not to be deaf to Colombians' anger, but he also said the only way forward is to pursue peace to prevent more blood from being spilled.

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Joshua Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjoshgoodman