- Finland's peace broker Martti Ahtisaari today was granted the prestigious Nobel Peace Price. His first diplomatic success was the negotiation of a lasting peace and independence for Namibia, which Mr Ahtisaari today described as his key achievement and which paved way for his engagements in Aceh (Indonesia) and Kosovo (ex-Yugoslavia).
The senior Finnish public servant and ex-President has been engaged by the UN at several occasions to seek solutions to the world's most complicated conflicts, and the Oslo Nobel Committee awarded him for his overall achievements during 20 years as a peace broker. "For the past twenty years, he has figured prominently in endeavours to resolve several serious and long-lasting conflicts," the Committee said in its announcement today.
However, Mr Ahtisaari himself today told the media that his breakthrough as an international diplomat, and his major achievement, came in 1989-90, when he played a significant part in the establishment of Namibia's independence. Indeed, his engagement in Namibia goes back to 1977, when he first was appointed the UN's commissioner for the country, which since 1970 was seen by the UN as illegally occupied by apartheid South Africa. Several engagements in Namibia throughout the 1980s for Mr Ahtisaari followed.
In the late 19980s, he retained the title of special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Namibia and led the UN's Transition Assistance Group in Namibia from 1989 to 1990. Mr Ahtisaari thus helped to supervise Namibia's move toward independence from South Africa, playing a key role in ensuring a smooth transition through free and fair elections.
While an overall deal with the South African occupiers had been reached before Mr Ahtisaari's renewed appointment, the UN broker found the apartheid regime playing it foul when arriving in Windhoek. The South Africans claimed Namibian freedom fighters SWAPO were violating the peace plan, and Foreign Minister Pik Botha gained the support of Britain's visiting Margaret Thatcher to put Mr Ahtisaari under strong pressure to allow South African troops to redeploy.
During April 1989, peace prospects for Namibia looked bleak as redeployed South African troops engaged in fighting with SWAPO fighters, resulting in over 350 deaths. In this crisis situation, the Finnish diplomat however managed to reengage the parties and negotiate a new deal, which would turn out to be a recipe for success. Fighting seized, stability was established and South African troops were finally pulled back under UN supervision.
Mr Ahtisaari thus supervised an 11-month transition process, where power was transferred from the apartheid regime to SWAPO, and where the UN representative also plaid a major role in governance. Following peaceful elections, the UN could transfer full powers to the new SWAPO government on Namibia's independence day on 21 March 1990.
Among Namibia's majority population, Mr Ahtisaari's strong and wise efforts were highly appreciated. Shortly after independence, President Sam Nujoma and his government made the Finnish diplomat an honorary citizen of Namibia.
Since his Namibia engagement, Mr Ahtisaari has been key to the lasting peace in Indonesia's Aceh province and the solution found for Kosovo. He has also made constructive contributions to the resolution of conflicts in Northern Ireland, in Central Asia, on the Horn of Africa has tried to help find a peaceful conclusion to the problems in Iraq.
For his own sake, Mr Ahtisaari however evaluated his work in Namibia as the most important. "Of course the peace work in both Kosovo and Aceh was important, but for me, the work that led to Namibia's independence from South Africa in 1990 was the most important because it took such a long time," he told the Norwegian broadcaster 'NRK' today.
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