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Conflict Resolution Marked Career of Nobel Laureate Martti Ahtisaari


Conflict resolution marked the career of former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari who has received this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to secure peace in various regions of the world. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera profiles Mr. Ahtisaari's distinguished career.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited Mr. Ahtisaari for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts.

Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, an independent organization working to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts, knows Mr. Ahtisaari well since he was chairman of the ICG for four years [2000-2004]. Evans says Ahtisaari's peace efforts spanned the globe.

"First of all, he was the United Nations special representative managing the whole transition to peace in Namibia, in south-west Africa in the late 1980s," he said. "He was the special negotiator representing the European Union in the negotiations to end the fighting in Kosovo in 1999. He was the leader of the peace negotiations in Aceh, in Indonesia - 2005. And, of course, was much involved in the whole Kosovo process, again, from the mid 2000s through to the present."

Evans describes Mr. Ahtisaari as an outstanding diplomat and explains what makes him such a successful negotiator. "It's the combination of this immense personal charm, together with a 'tough, no-nonsense, tell it like it is' approach to conducting negotiations," he said.

"Strobe Talbott, the former U.S. deputy secretary of state, described his role in the 1999 Kosovo peace process as playing 'Mr. Hammer' to [special Russian envoy Viktor] Chernomyrdin's 'Mr. Anvil' with [Yugoslav president Slobodan] Milosevic being what was beaten between the two of them. And that captures that side of him. But it's important to appreciate that without the personal qualities of charm and humor and so on, that add all those extra dimensions to his effectiveness, he probably wouldn't have had the achievements he has," he added.

The 71-year-old Mr. Ahtisaari was a school teacher before joining Finland's Foreign Ministry in 1965. He was a senior Finnish diplomat when in 1977 was named the United Nations envoy for Namibia. At the U.N., he rose to the post of undersecretary general.

In 1994, Mr. Ahtisaari was elected president of Finland but did not seek re-election in 2000. Since that time he has continued to devote himself to international peace efforts.

Gareth Evans says by awarding the Peace Prize to Mr. Ahtisaari, the Nobel Committee has gone back to its peace and security roots.

"There really is a case out there for a big international award for public policy generally, or for human rights specifically because the Nobel's 'raison d'etre', its core rationale, has always been conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peace and security," he said. "And we've been three or four years now without that being a central theme. And I think it is important to re-state that."

Evans was referring to the fact that in the past few years, Nobel Peace Prize winners included Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore for his work on climate change.

This year's Nobel Peace Prize will be presented to Martti Ahtisaari on December 10 in Oslo.

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