Finland's ex-president Martti Ahtisaari received the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to build a lasting peace from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Middle East.
"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2008 to Martti Ahtisaari 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 committee said in announcing the prize.
By selecting Ahtisaari, 71, for the prize, the Nobel committee returned its focus to traditional peace work after tapping climate campaigner Al Gore and the U.N. panel on climate change last year.
The secretive five-member committee said that Ahtisaari's work across the world — Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East — proved that such efforts can have a profound effect on peace processes.
"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 committee said in announcing the $1.4 million prize.
"For the past 20 years, he has figured prominently in endeavors to resolve several serious and long-lasting conflicts," the citation said, mentioning his work in conflicts from Namibia and Aceh, Indonesia, to Kosovo and Iraq.
Ahtisaari had been listed as a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate since 2005 after he negotiated an end to a conflict that began more than 130 years ago by bringing together the Indonesian government and the leaders of the separatist guerrilla movement in Aceh.
"He has also made constructive contributions to the resolution of conflicts in Northern Ireland, in Central Asia, and on the Horn of Africa," the citation said.
Speaking to NRK Norwegian TV, Ahtisaari said he "was very pleased and grateful" at receiving the prize.
Asked what work he considered the most important, Ahtisaari, the first Finn to win the prize, said that "of course Namibia is absolutely the most important because it took such a long time." He also singled out his work in Kosovo and Aceh.
Ahtisaari was a senior Finnish diplomat when in 1977 he was named the U.N. envoy for Namibia, where guerrillas were battling South African apartheid rule. He later rose to undersecretary-general, and in 1988 was dispatched to Namibia to lead 8,000 U.N. peacekeepers during its transition to independence.
Ahtisaari said he hoped the prize would make it easier to attract financing for his peace work.
"There are always many possibilities. I really hope now that I receive the prize that it makes it easier to finance the organizations that I chair," he said. "It's very important to be able to act properly, you need financing and you never have enough."
Ahtisaari has had a broad career in politics and in peacemaking.
A primary school teacher who 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 was U.N. undersecretary of state for administration and management from 1987 to 1991, heading the U.N. operation that brought independence to Namibia in 1990.
In 1994, Ahtisaari accepted the presidential candidacy of Finland's Social Democratic Party and won the election. He did not seek re-election in 2000 and has since participated in various international peace efforts.
In 2007, Ahtisaari's office — Crisis Management Initiative — started secret meetings in Finland between Iraqi Sunni and Shiite groups to agree on a road map to peace.
The talks, based on the format of peacemaking efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland, included 16 delegates from the feuding groups. They "agreed to consult further" on a list of recommendations to begin reconciliation talks, including resolving political disputes through nonviolence and democracy.
In August 2005, Ahtisaari helped end 30 years of fighting between Aceh rebels and the Indonesian government with peace talks in Finland, which he initiated and mediated with Crisis Management Initiative. A peace agreement, signed in Helsinki, followed seven months of negotiations between the two parties, which he initiated and mediated.
Ahtisaari was also chairman of the Bosnia-Herzegovina working group in the international peace conference on former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1993, and was special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on former Yugoslavia in 1993.
Although Serbia bitterly rejected Ahtisaari's attempts to forge a compromise settlement on Kosovo, which declared independence in February, his blueprint forms the essence of the new nation's constitution.
Ahtisaari's plan also laid down the guidelines for the deployment of a European Union police force in Kosovo and other key aspects of the way today's Kosovo is run day to day.
The peace prize is presented in Oslo while Nobel prizes for medicine, chemistry, physics and economics are handed out in Stockholm, Sweden. The ceremonies are always on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.