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The Norwegian committee has decided to award the 2016 peace prize to the Colombian president for his work to bring peace to his country, despite the fact that the peace deal was voted down in a referendum less than a week ago.

The peace prize committee says that the result of the referendum, which was to reject the peace accord negotiated by President Santos and the leader of the Farc rebels, Timochenko, could lead to a flare-up of conflict and civil war in the country and the committee strongly encourages Santos and Timochenko to respect the accord and “take their share of responsibility and participate constructively in the upcoming peace talks”.

She says that the referendum result was not the Colombian people rejecting peace, but rejecting the specific details of the peace deal put forward last week.

The Nobel committee spokeswoman applauded President Santos for saying he would fight for peace until his last day in office.

“The committee hopes that the peace prize will give him strength to succeed in this demanding task. Further, it is the committee’s hope that in the years to come, the Colombian people will reap the fruits of the reconciliation process.”

She said that though the peace accord was rejected in the referendum, the negotiations have “brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution” and Santos’s “endeavours to promote peace demonstrate the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will”.

Nobel committee is asked why the award was not split between the parties involved in the peace negotiations – including the Farc leader Timochenko. She says that Santos’s role as president, as “keeper of the process”, was very important and that while other attempts have been made to achieve peace in the country in the past, Santos went “all in”.

When pressed about whether it was also to do with the fact that it is difficult to award a peace prize to a guerrilla leader, she replied: “We never comment on those who do not receive the award.”

The committee spokeswoman is asked whether awarding the prize to a president who negotiated a peace deal that was then rejected by the people of Colombia was disrespectful to Colombian democracy.

She says no, she thinks the Colombians rejected the specifics of the peace deal, not peace itself, and is hopeful that this award will encourage the country’s leaders to continue to strive for peace and not let tensions reemerge.

She is being pressed again on whether they considered including the leader of the Farc rebel group in the award, but is refusing to be drawn – “we never comment on the process”, she says.

President Santos has not yet been notified of the event, says the committee, but they are attempting to make contact with him at this moment. He was not notified in advance because “in this modern world” advance notification can so often lead to leaks and the Nobel peace prize is nothing if not a heavily guarded secret”.

Others who were believed to have been in contention for the prize include a group of inhabitants from Greek islands who have rescued refugees after they made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.

Pope Francis, Edward Snowden and Iranian architects of the landmark nuclear deal with world powers were also rumoured to have been nominated. The committe does not reveal its shortlist.

The peace prize is the one of the five Nobel Prizes along with Chemistry, Physics, Medicine and Literature. Last year, the surprise winners of the accolade were the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet who were heralded for bringing peace in the country after the Arab Spring.

The year before, Malala Yousafzai, the girls’ education campaigner who was shot in the head by the Taliban at the age of 15, became the youngest ever winner when she was awarded the prize along with the Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi.

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