Colombians rejected a peace deal with leftist rebels by a razor-thin margin in a national referendum Sunday, scuttling years of painstaking negotiations and delivering a major setback to President Juan Manuel Santos, who vowed to keep a cease-fire in place and forge ahead with his efforts to end a half-century of war.
To save the accord, Santos ordered his negotiators to return to Cuba on Monday to consult with FARC leaders. He also promised to listen to opponents in a bid to strengthen the deal, which he said is Colombia's best chance for ending a conflict that has killed 220,000 people and driven almost 8 million people from their homes.
ABOVE: A man votes during the referendum in Guasca, Colombia on Oct. 2.
FARC leftist guerrilla commander Timochenko smokes a cigar while watching on TV the results of the referendum in Havana, Cuba.
Timochenko told reporters that the rebel group's commitment to peace remains intact. "The FARC deeply regret that the destructive power of those who sow hatred and revenge have influenced the Colombian people's opinion," he said. "The FARC reiterates its desire for peace and our willingness to use only words as a weapon for building the future."
Electoral officials count votes at a polling station after the referendum in Cali.
With more than 99 percent of polling stations reporting, 50.2 percent of ballots opposed the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, while 49.8 percent favored it -- a difference of fewer than 57,000 votes out of a total of 13 million.
A woman reacts after hearing the results of the peace deal referendum in Bogota.
Pre-election polls had predicted that the "yes" vote would win by an almost 2-to-1 ratio.
A woman stands near a white flag splashed in red as if it were blood after finding out the results of the Referendum in Bogota.
The shock outcome, comparable to Britain's decision to leave the European Union in the Brexit vote, opens an uncertain outlook for the peace accord, which was signed less than a week ago by Santos and FARC in a ceremony attended by heads of state, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe during a press conference after the nation voted "No" in the referendum in Rionegro.
Opposition to the accord, led by influential former President Alvaro Uribe, argued that the government was appeasing FARC and setting a bad example that criminal gangs would seize on by sparing rebels jail time if they confessed their crimes and guaranteeing the group 10 seats in congress through 2026.
If the "no" vote prevailed, Uribe said, the government should return to the negotiating table. But that is an option that Santos has previously ruled out.
'No' supporters gather at a rally in Bogota following their victory in the referendum.
The guerrilla war is the longest-running armed conflict in the Americas and has left 220,000 dead. With the government's ability to govern now in question, all eyes have turned to Uribe, who remains the country's most popular politician and whose almost-decade-long military offensive forced FARC to the negotiating table.