Troubleshooter Ahtisaari Wins Nobel Peace Prize

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Agence France Presse

Troubleshooter Ahtisaari Wins Nobel Peace Prize

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Finland's former president and United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari adjusts his glasses during a news conference in Vienna in this file picture taken February 21, 2007. (Herwig Prammer/Files/Reuters)

OSLO  - The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to Martti
Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who has spent 30 years ending
conflict in troublespots ranging from Kosovo to Namibia and Indonesia.

The
Norwegian Nobel Committee hailed the 71-year-old Ahtisaari "for his
important efforts, on several continents and over more than three
decades, to resolve international conflicts."

"These efforts have
contributed to a more peaceful world and to 'fraternity between
nations' in Alfred Nobel's spirit," committee head Ole Danbolt Mjoes
said.

Ahtisaari, a quiet, portly man now afflicted by rheumatism,
told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that his work as the UN special envoy to
Namibia had been the highlight of his career.

"Of course Namibia
is the most important since it took so long," he said, adding that he
was "very pleased" to win the prestigious prize.

As the UN
secretary general's special envoy, Ahtisaari guided Namibia towards a
peaceful independence in 1990 after more than a decade of negotiations.

He
also oversaw the 2005 reconciliation between the Indonesian government
and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels, ending a three-decade conflict
that killed some 15,000 people.

In Europe, he helped Kosovo,
which declared its independence in February, even though his mediation
efforts failed to clinch an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

And
in May 2000 the British government appointed Ahtisaari to co-head, with
Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the inspection of IRA arms' dumps in
Northern Ireland.

"Throughout all his adult life, whether as a
senior Finnish public servant and president or in an international
capacity, often connected to the United Nations, Ahtisaari has worked
for peace and reconciliation," Mjoes said.

Although he most
recently displayed his talents as a mediator in Europe, Ahtisaari cut
his diplomatic teeth in Africa. He was appointed Finland's ambassador
to Tanzania in 1973, at the age of 36.

He became UN Commissioner for Namibia in 1977 and in 1978 was named the UN envoy to Namibia.

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

Made
fun of by the press for his large size and his limp, Ahtisaari was ill
at ease with the largely ceremonial role of president. With his true
passion in foreign affairs, Ahtisaari likened his tour in domestic
politics, which lasted until 2000, to "an extramarital affair".

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

He recommended independence
for the breakaway Serbian province, where there is an ethnic Albanian
majority, but his inability to get the two sides to agree was a blow
for him.

With its decision to hand the 2008 prize to Ahtisaari,
the Nobel committee has returned to a more tradition interpretation of
the award, after several recent prizes expanded its boundaries to take
in environmental work, for instance.

Last year's Peace Prize went to former US vice president Al Gore and the United Nations panel on climate change.

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

The announcement of the prize came a day after the
Nobel Literature Prize was awarded to French author Jean-Marie Gustave
Le Clezio.

French and German scientists credited with the
discovery of the viruses behind AIDS and cervical cancer won the
medicine prize, while the physics prize was awarded to Makoto Kobayashi
and Toshihide Maskawa of Japan and Yoichiro Nambu of the United States
for groundbreaking theoretical work in fundamental particles.

Osamu
Shimomura of Japan and US duo Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien won the
chemistry prize for a fluorescent jellyfish protein that has become a
vital lab tool.

The Nobel Economics Prize wraps up the awards on October 13.

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