Seasoned diplomat Ahtisaari wins coveted Nobel
Friday 10 October 2008
Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize today for his work on conflict resolution.
Ahtisaari, 71, was in the international limelight when he organised and hosted talks between Indonesia's government and the Free Aceh Movement, who signed a peace deal in August 2005 to end 30 years of armed struggle.
The statesman made his mark in international diplomacy as point man for the European Union, when he persuaded then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to accept Nato's terms for ending the Kosovo air campaign in 1999.
The work in Kosovo earned Ahtisaari a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, and in 2006 he was again tipped as the likely winner after the successful outcome of the Aceh talks.
Until March last year Ahtisaari mediated Serb-Albanian talks on Kosovo as the EU's envoy. He drafted a plan advocating EU-supervised independence with broad autonomy for Kosovo's Serb minority, but Serbia and Russia have rejected it.
Ahtisaari was perhaps best known abroad for his role as a UN official in negotiations on the independence of Namibia from South African rule, achieved in 1990.
A no-nonsense diplomat, Ahtisaari investigated UN operations in Iraq after the 2003 truck bombing that devastated the organisation's Baghdad headquarters and killed 22 people, including the chief of the mission, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
His findings - that security had been "dysfunctional" and "sloppy" - prompted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to propose a $97m overhaul of the world body's security arrangements, and 778 new security jobs.
Ahtisaari, president of Finland from 1994 to 2000, demonstrated his leadership credentials by leading his homeland into the European Union in 1995 and economic and monetary union in 1999.
He spent virtually his whole career in the foreign service, and is known to be more at ease and in touch with world affairs than domestic politics.
Ahtisaari bowed out of national politics in 2000 to head various international institutions and projects promoting peace, democracy and crisis resolution.
He served as an independent arms inspector in Northern Ireland from 2000-2001 and in 2000 was picked as one of three "wise men" to assess the Austrian government's commitment to upholding human rights and combat racism.
Since then he has also been the UN special envoy for the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and in April 2002 he headed a fact-finding team to investigate the scene of a three-week Israeli assault on Jenin in the West Bank.
Ahtisaari is married and has one son.
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