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Award opens up Kosovo wounds

PARIS, October 13 – Martti Ahtisaari was saluted far and wide Friday as the worthiest of Nobel peace laureates, but the prize reopened old wounds over the former UN mediator’s role in leading Kosovo to independence.

Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, himself a Nobel peace laureate in 2001, said he had telephoned Ahtisaari to congratulate the Finn on the 10-million-kronor (1.02-million-euro, 1.42-million-dollar) award.

"He is the only man I know who has made peace on three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe, and I always found him ready to answer the call to make this world a better place."

In Hungary, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said simply: "He is the definition of the respected elder statesman and I think that no one could be more deserving of this award."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner praised the 71-year-old Finnish diplomat for "his courageous and determined action" to bring peace to Namibia, Kosovo, Indonesia’s Aceh and other world troublespots.

The award, however, was viewed very differently by Russia’s envoy to NATO who accused Ahtisaari of having systematically and brazenly subverted international law in helping Kosovo towards independence.

"I am ashamed for the people on the Nobel committee," Dmitry Rogozin told Echo of Moscow radio. "All this makes me want to do is use foul language."

Rogozin hinted the prize was Ahtisaari’s reward from Washington for sabotaging UN talks on Kosovo, a province of Serbia that seceded in February despite fierce opposition from Belgrade and Moscow.

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"There were rumours that the Americans were telling him that if everything went well, he would become a Nobel laureate," he said.

In March 2007, after a year of talks that ended without a compromise, Ahtisaari proposed "internationally supervised independence" for Kosovo, prompting accusations of Western bias from Serbia and Russia.

Less than a year later, the ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence.

The brother of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic condemned the award as "political".

"It’s rare for the Nobel Prize to be used for political goals, this is one of those," Borislav Milosevic, the former Yugoslav ambassador to Russia, told Echo of Moscow.

"I’m distressed by this decision and I do not consider Ahtisaari a deserving winner."

Fifty countries, mainly in the West, have now recognised Kosovo’s statehood, even as Moscow and Belgrade continue to insist the move violated international law.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the award vindicated Ahtisaari’s decision to put Kosovo on the path to independence.

"France, which continued to offer respect and support during this difficult time, sees this Nobel prize in particular as a recognition that the proposal of president Ahtisaari was the right one," he said.

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Annan’s successor at the helm of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, issued a congratulatory statement from the UN headquarters in New York expressing his delight.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono lauded Ahtisaari as a "champion of peace" for overseeing a 2005 peace agreement between his government and rebels in the breakaway province of Aceh, helping to end a three-decade conflict that killed 15,000 people.

Praise for the Finn centred on his renowned skills as a mediator.

"You have proved over many decades and on different continents that it is possible to find peaceful and just solutions to difficult and dangerous conflicts with foresight, perseverance, skill and the power to win people over," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen both congratulated Finland’s first Peace Prize laureate, with Vanhanen describing his commitment to peace and human rights as "remarkable".

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