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UN Chief, World Leaders, Congratulate Nobel Winner

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to long-time peace advocate and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among those welcoming the news. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

In a statement, Mr. Ban said he was "delighted" that Mr. Ahtisaari received this prestigious honor. The U.N. chief said Mr. Ahtisaari, who has worked over the years with the United Nations, has never ceased to champion the principles and ideals of the organization.

"He pays tribute to Mr. Ahtisaari's exceptional career in the service of the global community, with missions ranging from the former Yugoslavia to Namibia, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, including his successful mediation to help achieve a peaceful settlement in Aceh between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement," said Mr. Ban's deputy spokesperson, Marie Okabe.

The Norwegian Nobel committee said it decided to award the peace prize this year to Mr. Ahtisaari for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, as a mediator to resolve international conflicts.

"Through his untiring efforts and good results he has shown what role mediation of various kinds can play in the resolution of international conflicts. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to express their hope that others may be inspired by his efforts and his achievements," said Ole Danbolt Mjoes, Chairman of the Nobel Committee.

Eight years ago, the 71-year old Ahtisaari founded the Crisis Management Initiative, which has worked behind the scenes to facilitate peace in Iraq, Indonesia and Northern Ireland.

The former president was also deeply involved in trying to end the conflict in Kosovo by proposing a form of supervised independence to satisfy both the ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority. That plan took his name - the Ahtisaari Plan. Ultimately, despite Serbian protests, Kosovo declared its independence in February and has been recognized by nearly 50 other nations. The Ahtisaari Plan forms the essence of Kosovo's constitution.

Kosovo's President, Fatmir Sejdiu said it is an "extraordinary evaluation by the Norwegian Committee to give deserved credit to a man who has done much for a very long time for peace and stability in different parts of the world." He went on to say that the issue of Kosovo is of specific importance, for the formulas he offered, for his approach and for the path he has followed throughout the difficult task of negotiations.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also welcomed the news, saying in a statement that the prize is recognition that Mr. Ahtisaari's plan for Kosovo was the right one.

Mr. Ahtisaari received the news in his native Finland. He said he hoped the prize would help facilitate his future work. A one-time primary school teacher, Mr. Ahtisaari said one of the biggest challenges is to find employment for the growing numbers of young people who are entering the work force.

Mr. Ahtisaari will receive his medal and more than $1 million at a formal ceremony in Oslo, Norway on December 10. The date marks the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who instituted the prize.