Finnish peace mediator wins Nobel prize

October 10, 2008 12:00 am

, OSLO, October 10 – Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who has helped mediate on conflict zones ranging from Kosovo to Indonesia, was named the winner on Friday of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2008 to Martti Ahtisaari for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts," head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Ole Danbolt Mjoes said.

"These efforts have contributed to a more peaceful world and to ‘fraternity between nations’ in Alfred Nobel’s spirit," he added.

The announcement of the prize for the 71-year-old, who has long been tipped as a possible winner, brings to an end this year’s season of Nobel awards.

Ahtisaari’s most notable achievement was overseeing the 2005 reconciliation of the Indonesian government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels, bringing an end to a three-decade conflict that killed some 15,000 people.

He also helped lead Kosovo down the path toward independence, even though his intense mediation efforts failed to clinch a joint agreement between Serbia and Kosovo and Pristina earlier this year unilaterally declared independence.

Prior to his involvement in the Aceh talks, Ahtisaari was unfamiliar with Asian geopolitics, but widely respected as a gifted diplomat and outstanding negotiator.

He came to the negotiations after a Finnish businessman linked to the Jakarta elite was convinced the former Finnish president had what it took to bring new life to the apparently moribund peace process.

The two sides described Ahtisaari as tough during the talks, but with a sense of humour and warmth on the sidelines.

Originally a teacher, Ahtisaari entered the diplomatic service in the late 1960s and was appointed ambassador to Tanzania in 1973 at the age of 36.

As the UN secretary general’s special envoy to Namibia, Ahtisaari helped lead the country down the path towards independence in 1990.

In 1994 Finland’s Social Democratic Party nominated him to run for the presidency and Ahtisaari became the first directly elected Finnish president.

Finland joined the European Union a year later.

Scoffed at by the press for his large size and his limp, this man of action was ill at ease with the largely ceremonial role of president.

At the end of 2005, Ahtisaari was appointed the UN special envoy for talks on the final status of the Serbian province of Kosovo, seven years after he played a key role in bringing an end to hostilities there.

As special envoy, Ahtisaari tried to get the Serbs and Kosovars to reach an accord but was repeatedly accused of bias by the Serbs.

He recommended independence for the breakaway Serbian province, but his inability to get the two sides to agree was a tough blow for him.

He called off the talks in March 2007, and less than a year later, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence amid loud protests from Belgrade and Moscow, but with the support of much of the international community.

Ahtisaari will receive the Nobel diploma, medal and cheque for 10 million kronor (1.02 million euros, 1.42 million dollars) at an official ceremony in Oslo on December 10.


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