Finland’s Ahtisaari accepts Nobel Peace Prize

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Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari gives his acceptance speech at the ceremony in Oslo City Hall on Wednesday (December 10th).

Even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved if there is enough will, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari said on Wednesday (December 10th), as he received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2008.

"Peace is a question of will," the veteran diplomat and peace mediator said in his Nobel acceptance speech at Oslo’s City Hall. "All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal."

Ahtisaari, who served as president of Finland from 1994 to 2000, was named as the winner of this year’s peace prize on October 10th. Announcing its decision, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee said it had chosen him "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts".

He is the first Finnish national to win the prestigious award. His career as a mediator dates back to 1977, when he was appointed UN special envoy for Namibia. He was instrumental in helping that country to win its independence from South Africa in 1990.

In appreciation of his efforts, the government in Windhoek made him an honorary Namibian citizen. Ahtisaari says Namibia was his biggest and most important achievement.

He has also been praised for his role in brokering the 2005 peace agreement between the separatist Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government that ended nearly 30 years of fighting. In addition, he was involved in efforts to end the conflict in Northern Ireland.

In the Balkans, Ahtisaari helped mediate an end to the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, a role which earned him his first nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.

In late 2005, he became the UN’s special envoy for the Kosovo status process, heading more than a year’s worth of talks between Belgrade and Pristina. The negotiations ended in March last year without a deal, and a settlement plan put forward by Ahtisaari was rejected by Serbia and its ally on the Security Council, Russia.

Nevertheless, the Ahtisaari plan got a green light from UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and became the basis for Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on February 17th.

"In 1999 and again in 2005-2007, he sought under especially difficult circumstances to find a solution to the conflict in Kosovo," the Nobel Committee said in its statement in October.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony, Ahtisaari said the 53 nations that have recognised Kosovo thus far represent about two-thirds of the world economy.

"Kosovo is independent, it will remain independent," the diplomat said on Tuesday. "The process is irreversible."

As he accepted his award, he called for stronger efforts towards resolving the lingering crisis in the Middle East.

"Many have come to believe that the Middle East knot can never be untied," Ahtisaari said on Wednesday. "I do not share this belief… The solution would require a contribution from all the parties involved, as well as the international community as a whole."

Stressing that the international community must remain committed to its stated goal of eradicating poverty, he warned that if the global financial crisis leads to a reduction in foreign aid to developing countries, it would be "disastrous".

If governments do nothing to eradicate poverty, "we will be creating an effective breeding ground for crime, instability and war as young people lose all hope," Ahtisaari said. "I believe that the fight against poverty is also the most effective measure of countering terrorism in the long term."

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