Tens of thousands march for peace in Colombia

President Juan Manuel Santos, who joined the colorful march after speaking to soldiers at the monument of falle...

President Juan Manuel Santos, who joined the colorful march after speaking to soldiers at the monument of fallen heroes, said the demonstrations _in favor of the victims __ will accelerate, I_m certain, the achievement of peace._

At noon, church bells rang throughout the country in remembrance of the victims of the conflict, which include an estimated 70,000 dead, as many as 50,000 disappeared, and more than four million internal refugees.

Farmer Miguel Anzola said he just recently joined the ranks of the displaced. He was driven from his farm in the southern province of Meta to the Colombian capital last August after receiving death threats. He marched wearing a white t-shirt and waving a white flag.

_We_ve got to stop this war of Colombians against Colombians,_ Mr. Anzola says, adding that his hope is that the government and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) can reach a peace deal so that he can recover what he_s lost.

The government and FARC launched peace talks in November and have been holding negotiations in Havana. This week the FARC reinforced its negotiation team with senior leader Pablo Catatumbo, a member of the group_s seven-man ruling secretariat.

'Clamor for peace'

But even as thousands of Colombians marched to remember the victims, Ever Cordero, a peace activist in Cordoba Province,__ was gunned down by unknown assailants, an act that President Santos condemned in a tweet. The murder followed a string of deaths last month of some of the march organizers.

Like many of those marching today, Merado Zambrano_s transportation to Bogot__ was organized by the leftist Marcha Patri__tica political movement. It's a group that brings together peasant farmers, union members, and leftist politicians.__ Mr. Zambrano says he traveled to Bogot__ by bus from Poapy__n, in southwestern Colombia, to join the peace marches and show his support for the peace process. _We are tired of war. Peace is our only hope._

Military intelligence says the Marcha Patr__tica is financed by the FARC, which the group denies.

In a video statement from Havana, Mr. Catatumbo welcomed the marches, calling them _a great clamor for peace; we join the great national mobilizations without waver._

'A single day of peace'

April 9 is a significant date in the history of Colombia's present-day conflict. It marks the anniversary of the 1948 assassination of populist politician Jorge Eli__cer Gait__n, who was running for president. His death sparked a 10-year period of partisan violence known simply as La Violencia. Many historians trace the roots of today_s conflict and the FARC rebels to that time.__

In a televised speech Monday night, Santos said Mr. Gait__n_s murder _was a dark moment that began a period of violence that has not yet ended. Neither my generation or that of our children has enjoyed a single day of peace._

Addressing critics of his decision to negotiate with the FARC, which the United States and Europe have label a terrorist group, Santos said that some Colombians _remain trapped in the past, clinging to a vision of Colombia condemned to violence.

_Peace should not divide us,_ he said.

Critics _ including former President Alvaro Uribe, under whose presidency from 2002 to 2008 the FARC was severely weakened _ say Santos is offering the rebels exemption from punishment in exchange for laying down their arms. Santos says such an agreement has not been discussed during peace talks. Mr. Uribe said he is opposed _not to peace but to peace with impunity._

Packed into Bogot___s Bolivar Square demonstrators chanted that those who want peace outweigh the critics. _We are more! Peace now!_ they cried.

The Christian Science Monitor | By Sibylla Brodzinsky

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