Former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos wins Tipperary Peace Award

Former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos wins Tipperary Peace Award
Juan Manuel Santos is this year's recipient of the Tipperary International Peace Award

The former president of Colombia who brokered a peace deal which ended 50 years of guerrilla warfare has said that the peace process in Northern Ireland played a "key role" in inspiring the peace effort in that country.

Nobel laureate Juan Manuel Santos was speaking in Tipperary town as he accepted the Tipperary International Peace Award for his work in bringing the Colombian conflict to an end.

He joined a list of former winners of the Tipperary prize which includes Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Mary McAleese, Bill Clinton, and George Mitchell.

Among the guests at the ceremony were former Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, who has been the EU's envoy to the Colombian peace process since 2015.

"It is a country that has suffered long and too much in what was the longest and bloodiest conflict in the western hemisphere, 220,000 people died, 40,000 are still missing, nearly seven million people were forcibly removed from their homes," he said.

President Santos concluded an agreement with the FARC guerrilla group two years ago but this was rejected by the people by a narrow majority in a plebiscite, prompting a renegotiation and the passage of the new agreement through the courts and the Colombian parliament.

"Because President Santos did that, he has left an enduring legacy in his country, a country that is at peace," Mr Gilmore said.

The former president himself said he witnessed the IRA campaign for himself when in London in 1975, and he was "knocked to the ground" with others when a bomb exploded outside a club in Picadilly.

But when he became president in 2010, he looked at the example set in Northern Ireland and decided to seek peace with the FARC guerillas.

The Northern Ireland peace process, in particular, played a key role in inspiring us to achieve peace.

He said he was proud that Colombia had joined Northern Ireland as "a beacon of hope" for those who are engaged in other conflicts, "from Syria to South Sudan".

Mr Santos criticised the human rights records of regimes in the Philippines, Venezuela, Nigeria and Hungary, and also the new president of Brazil, and said that in the United States, "the land of liberty," immigrants from central America who are marching in search of asylum are being stigmatised as "a criminal threat" while Democratic leaders have received letterbombs in the post.

"In my life, I've been both a hawk and a dove. As a hawk, I fought with determination [as defence minister] to defeat the illegal armed groups and to weaken the FARC, but always in recognition of the human condition; as a dove I understood that only through dialogue is the path to reaching a true and lasting peace."

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