Annan is honoured for bringing new life to UN

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The Independent Online

Kofi Anna, the secretary general of the United Nations, declared it a "wonderful feeling" on Friday to have been chosen as this year's winner of the Nobel peace prize. He shares the award with the UN itself, which he has served at various levels for most of his professional life.

The Nobel committee cited Mr Annan, 63, for being "pre-eminent in bringing new life to the UN". It said the award was being simultaneously made to the entire organisation because it remained "at the forefront of efforts to achieve peace and security in the world".

The award comes at a time when the organisation is facing an unprecedented challenge. Mr Annan wants the UN to play the leading role in the fight against terrorism. He is also likely to be asked to assist in rebuilding Afghanistan when military action has been completed.

After being given the news at his official residence shortly before 5am, Mr Annan said: "It's a wonderful feeling and a great encouragement for us and the organisation, for the work we have done until now. It's a great recognition for the staff." Jubilant staff members crammed into the lobby of UN headquarters in New York to cheer him when he arrived for work. This is the first time the UN as a whole has received the peace prize. The only other secretary general to win was Sweden's Dag Hammarskjold, awarded the prize posthumously in 1961.

Mr Annan has served as secretary general since replacing Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt in 1997, and is immensely popular among the 52,000 employees of the world body. Four months ago, Mr Annan was re-elected by the General Assembly to serve a second term as secretary general from 2002. But for his Nobel prize, he might have gone down in history as the apologising secretary general. Since taking the helm at the UN, he has had to explain how the organisation failed to protect the 800,000 people massacred in the Rwanda genocide in 1994 as well as the 8,000 Muslims murdered by Serbs in the so-called UN safe haven of Srebrenica, Bosnia, the following year.

With his manner of extreme humility and calm, Mr Annan emerged mostly unscathed from both those calamities, even though they both happened while he was in charge of UN peace-keeping.

Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch in New York said: "It was a very, very dark spot on the history of the UN and probably on Mr Annan's biography as well, but you can give him credit that he later took steps to investigate what happened and be honest about it. He is someone who has best understood the centrality of human rights to the work of the United Nations".

The Nobel prize is a rare morale-booster for the UN, which has been heavily criticised for much of the past decade. Other setbacks included failed interventions in Somalia and Sierra Leone, weeks of chaos and mass-murder in East Timor as it sought independence in 1999 from Indonesia, as well as a seemingly endless squabble with the United States that has only recently been resolved.

The award to Mr Annan was welcomed by many UN ambassadors, including Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's representative, who said: "This man stands for peace just in his very being. The integrity and the moral authority is exactly the sort of leadership the world wants in a difficult era."

Kamalesh Sharma, India's UN ambassador, said that the prize would transform Mr Annan into a "real global celebrity, like a rock star".

Mr Annan was born in 1938 in Ghana. He joined the United Nations in 1962 as an administrator with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. His UN career has been varied, with posts in Africa and Europe in almost every area of the organisation, from budget management to peace-keeping.

His wife, Nane, is a niece of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis in Hungary near the end of the Second World War.

In its citation, the Nobel committee said: "While clearly underlining the UN's traditional responsibility for peace and security, [Mr Annan] has also emphasised its obligations with regard to human rights.

"He has risen to such new challenges as HIV/Aids and international terrorism, and brought about more efficient utilisation of the UN's modest resources."