Finnish Nobel Peace laureate and former president Martti Ahtisaari dies aged 86

He brokered peace in Kosovo, Indonesia and Northern Ireland

Martti Ahtisaari, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, has died aged 86. Reuters
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Nobel Peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who helped broker peace in conflict zones across the world, has died aged 86.

Mr Ahtisaari, who served as Finland's 10th president between 1994 and 2000 and steered the nation to European Union membership, died on Monday.

He was celebrated around the world for brokering peace in conflict zones in Kosovo, Indonesia and Northern Ireland and refused to accept that war was inevitable.

"Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal," Mr Ahtisaari said when accepting the Nobel award in 2008.

His notable efforts to resolve conflicts included helping Namibia win independence from South Africa in 1990, aiding the resolution of a dispute in Indonesia’s Aceh province in 2005 and negotiating peace in Kosovo in 1999 and 2007.

“He was a peacemaker whose career contained an extraordinary number of internationally significant achievements,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said.

“He believed in humankind, civilisation and goodness, and he lived a great, significant life.

“He was president in times of change, who piloted Finland into a global EU era.”

Having studied education at university, Mr Ahtisaari began his career as a primary schoolteacher in Finland and Pakistan, before joining the Finnish Foreign Ministry.

He rose through the ranks to become ambassador to several African nations, including Tanzania and Zambia.

He spent most of his diplomatic career abroad, holding numerous positions at the UN from 1978.

He was born in Viipuri, which was then part of Finland but is now the Russian city of Vyborg.

His father, Oiva, was a military technician and his mother, Tyyne, a housewife. The family was forced to flee when war broke out in 1939. The experience made him an “eternally displaced person”, Mr Ahtisaari said in an interview in 2008.

As a mediator, he was unrelenting, persistent and knew how to defuse pressure through negotiation.

After his term as Finland’s president was ending, he founded the Crisis Management Initiative, a non-profit peace-brokering organisation that works to prevent and resolve violent conflicts through informal dialogue and mediation.

On Monday, the group, which later became CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation, said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of its founder and (former) chair of the board.”

He also served on the boards of UPM-Kymmene Oyj, a Finnish forestry company, and Elcoteq SE, a former contract manufacturer of consumer electronics.

In 2021, Mr Ahtisaari withdrew from public life due to advanced Alzheimer’s. He is survived by his wife, Eeva, and their son, Marko.

Updated: October 16, 2023, 9:28 AM