11 Oct 2008

Finland's former president wins Nobel Peace Prize

7:38 pm on 11 October 2008

Finland's former president Martti Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for a long career of peace mediation work including a 2005 accord between Indonesia and rebels in its Aceh province.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee chose Mr Ahtisaari to receive the $US1.4 million prize from a field of 197 candidates "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts".

Mr Ahtisaari, 71, who was Finland's president from 1994 to 2000, has had a diplomatic career stretching from Africa to the Balkans. He has spent 30 years helping end conflicts in troublespots around the globe.

In 2005, he mediated peace between Indonesia and rebels in Aceh province to end 30 years of fighting, and he was the architect of a European Union-backed plan for Kosovo's independence.

Welcoming the award on Friday, he said he felt his most important contribution was in Namibia, where he worked towards the country gaining independence from South Africa, a task that took a very long time.

"Perhaps the most traumatic experience was on April 1, 1989 when SWAPO (rebel group) troops came from Angola and more than 300 people were killed.

"If I could manage to sort out that, I have the feeling there is no problem I can't solve," he says.

He also mentioned his work in Indonesia's Aceh province and the Balkans.

Mr Ahtisaari says his childhood experiences of war prepared him to become perhaps the world's most hailed peace negotiator, because it "gave me sensitivity".

People noticed his gift for diplomacy early on, he said.

"I was surprised when my old basketball teammates told me that I was always the one who was mediating quarrels within the team."

It was not until later in life that Mr Ahtisaari realised his childhood experience had prepared him for his diplomatic calling. He was forced to flee his family home in Karelia province when it was annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

He says having to move from one relative to another made him more sensitive to the reactions of people around him and helped tune him into what others were feeling and thinking.

"I understand people well," he says.

The prize will be handed over in Oslo on 10 December, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of Swedish inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel, who created the awards.

French writer takes literature prize

The Nobel Prize for literature has been awarded to French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.

The Swedish Academy called him an author of new departures and poetic adventures, describing him as "a citizen of the world, a nomad."

Le Clezio, 68, has lived with indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America and describes the experience as crucial to his world view.

He published his first novel, The Interrogation in 1964, when he was 23. His big breakthrough came in 1980 with Desert.