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Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari has won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. ((Visar Kryeziu/Associated Press))

Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari's decades of work trying to build lasting peace in various parts of the world has been recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize.

In announcing the award in Oslo on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said Ahtisaari, 71, was selected because of his "important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts."

Included in Ahtisaari's long career of peace mediation work is a 2005 accord between Indonesia and rebels in its Aceh province.

His work in conflict resolution has also been conducted in Namibia, Kosovo, Iraq, Northern Ireland and the Horn of Africa.

Ahtisaari served as president of Finland from 1994 to 2000 and has also worked as a UN diplomat and mediator.

The five-member committee particularly recognized Ahtisaari's work in East Timor and the Balkans in Europe in their announcement.

"These efforts have contributed to a more peaceful world and to fraternity between nations in Alfred Nobel's spirit," the committee said in a press release announcing the prize.

He was selected from 197 nominations for the $1.4-million US prize.

Named after its founder, Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, the award has been given out nearly every year since 1901. It is considered to be one of the world's most coveted awards because of the international prestige it carries.

More mediation work planned

Ahtisaari told NRK Norwegian TV he "was very pleased and grateful" at receiving the prize.

Ahtisaari added he was hopeful that winning the prize would help with his future mediation work.

"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."

Leading up to the announcement, human rights activists including Chinese dissidents Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia, Russia's Lidia Yusupova, Vietnam's Thich Quang Do and the group Human Rights Watch had been considered possible winners.

Other popular contenders included:

  • Zimbabwe's former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
  • Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician and anti-corruption activist rescued this year after being held for six years by Marxist FARC rebels.
  • The Cluster Munitions Coalition.
  • The African Union, for restoring peace in Kenya after election-sparked riots.

But Ahtisaari has been considered a potential contender for the prize for years.

"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 prize committee said in its release.

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to express the hope that others may be inspired by his efforts and his achievements."

Return to focus on peace work

By selecting Ahtisaari for the prize, the Nobel committee returned its focus to traditional peace work after tapping climate campaigner Al Gore and the United Nations panel on climate change last year.

"He is a world champion when it comes to peace, and he never gives up," said Ole Danbolt Mjoes, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel awards committee.

The award, he said, was in line with recent Nobels to other peace mediators, notably former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 2002 and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2001.

The winners of the rest of the 2008 Nobel Prizes are:

  • Yoichiro Nambo, Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, physics.
  • Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien, chemistry.
  • Harald zur Hausen, Françoise Barré -Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, medicine.
  • Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, literature.

Ahtisaari will receive the peace prize at a ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10, which is also the anniversary of Nobel's 1896 death.

The other Nobel Prizes are handed out in Stockholm, Sweden, as is the Nobel in Economics.

With files from the Associated Press