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Global Mediator Ahtisaari Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Martti Ahtisaari
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has announced Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his peace mediation work in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The career diplomat was picked from a field of 197 candidates to receive the prestigious $1.4 million award.

The committee's chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjos, said Ahtisaari was awarded "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."

The 71-year-old Ahtisaari's most notable achievement has been the reconciliation of the Indonesian government and Free Aceh Movement rebels in 2005, ending a conflict that claimed some 15,000 lives.

European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen also hailed his role in helping end hostilities in the former Serbian province of Kosovo in the 1990s.

"President Ahtisaari played a key role during the international conference on the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s," she said. "His strong commitment and excellent negotiating skills were crucial in the talks to end the fighting in Kosovo in 1999, and as the UN secretary-general's special envoy for Kosovo he played a major role in contributing to the security and stability of the region of the western Balkans."

Earlier this year -- through what was described as the "Ahtisaari plan," he helped Kosovo achieve independence from Serbia, albeit failing to get the two sides to reach an agreement.

In Serbia, Kosovo's Western-backed unilateral declaration of independence even earned Ahtisaari the status of enemy of the state.

By contrast, the news of Ahtisaari's Nobel Peace Prize victory was very much welcomed in Kosovo:

"There is a general feeling that Mr. Ahtisaari's victory is very good news, especially since it came just 48 hours after the UN General Assembly voted in favor of Serbia's bid for the International Court of Justice to review the manner of Kosovo's declaration," says Arbana Vidishiqi, who heads RFE/RL's bureau in Pristina.

"Mr. Ahtisaari has been a mediator in very complicated negotiations for a small country but with clearly serious implications."

Least Controversial Candidate

A former primary school teacher, Ahtisaari joined Finland's Foreign Ministry in 1965. He spent 20 years abroad, first as ambassador to Tanzania and then to the United Nations in New York.

He served as Finland's president from 1994 to 2000.

Ahtisaari had been tipped as a favorite for the prestigious honor for several years, along with Chechen human rights lawyer Lydia Yusupova and Chinese dissident Hu Jia.

Many experts and bookmakers had speculated that the prize would go to a human rights campaigner since this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Following the Beijing Olympics this summer, the committee was widely expected to send a reminder to the Chinese regime to live up to its promise to improve its human rights record after the games.

Other observers, however, had predicted that the secretive committee was unlikely to stigmatize Russia or China and would choose the less controversial Ahtisaari instead.

The Nobel Prize announcement brings to an end this year's Nobel awards season.

with agency reports