Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the country's decades-long civil war — a surprise in light of his peace plan's recent failure with Colombian voters. 

In a referendum on Sunday, Colombians narrowly rejected the peace accord Santos had worked out with FARC guerrillas to end the conflict that since 1964 has killed more than 200,000 people in the South American country. Many voters reckoned it was too lenient on the Marxist guerrillas.

"The referendum was not a vote for or against peace," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said early Friday morning, in Oslo. "What the No side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement."

"The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace," the committee said. 

Santos echoed that sentiment in statement: "I receive this award in their name: the Colombian people who have suffered so much with this war." 

The committee did not cite his counterpart in the negotiations, FARC leader Rodrigo Londono.

However, the rebel leader, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, congratulated Santos on Twitter.

Unlikely peacemaker

Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia's wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the FARC's biggest military setbacks. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.

Other groups and individuals thought to have been in the running for this year's Peace Prize included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Syrian aid organization known as the White Helmets, and the Greek Islanders, a collection of villagers who rescued hundreds of thousands of refugees off the shore of Lesbos.

Santos is 15th head of state or government to win the Peace Prize while in office. He is the second Nobel laureate born in Colombia, following Gabriel García Márquez who won the prize for literature in 1982.

The prize is worth about $1.2 million Cdn (eight million kronor).

The Nobel science awards were announced earlier this week. Three researchers shared the prize for chemistry for their work on molecular machines, while the medicine prize went to a Japanese biologist who discovered the process by which a cell breaks down and recycles content. The physics prize was shared by three British-born scientists for theoretical discoveries that shed light on strange states of matter.

The economics and literature prizes will be announced next week.

COLOMBIA

FARC guerrillas patrol in the Colombian jungle in August 1998. The country's civil war has killed more than 200,000 people since 1964. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

With files from Reuters