Colombians headed to the polls on Sunday for a president election that could determine whether the country continues peace talks with Marxist guerrillas or steps up its military offensive to end a 50-year war.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who is seeking a second four-year term, wants to end the conflict with FARC rebels through negotiations taking place in Cuba.
Right-winger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga dismissed the talks as pandering to terrorists and suggested he would scrap them in favor of U.S.-backed military campaigns similar to those led by his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe.
Santos and Zuluaga are polling neck-and-neck following a race marred by accusations of electronic espionage and drug-linked campaign financing. Neither is seen winning enough votes to avoid a June 15 run-off.
Polling stations in Colombia opened on schedule Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. local time for the first round election, with more than 32 million eligible to vote, according to the French news agency AFP.
The peace process, hosted by Cuba, seeks to end a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced more than five million since it erupted in 1964. The talks have yielded agreements on three items of a five-point agenda, including agreements on rural reform, the participation of former guerrillas in politics and the battle against drug trafficking.
But Zuluaga has galvanized conservative Colombians who believe the talks will fail like three similar attempts since the 1980s, including a 1999 peace deal that let the FARC bolster its ranks and boost involvement in drugs.
While Colombians are desperate to see an end to the killing, many are outraged that guerrilla leaders accused of crimes against humanity could be pardoned or hold political office.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.