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OSLO (Reuters) - Finland's former president Martti Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for a decades-long career of peacemaking around the world from Namibia to Kosovo.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee chose Ahtisaari to receive the $1.4 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."
"These efforts have contributed to a more peaceful world and to 'fraternity between nations' in Alfred Nobel's spirit," the award committee said in its citation, adding it hoped the prize would inspire other peacemakers around the world.
Sweden's Nobel, the philanthropist and inventor of dynamite, created the prizes in his will in 1895.
Ahtisaari, 71, who was Finland's president from 1994 to 2000, has for years been a favorite to win what many deem the world's top accolade.
"No one better than he could win the Nobel Peace Prize," said former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "He is only man I know who has made peace on three continents, Africa, Asia and Europe, and I always found him ready to answer the call to make this world a better place."
In 2005, Ahtisaari brokered peace between Indonesia and rebels in Aceh province to end 30 years of fighting. Until March last year he led Serb-Albanian talks on Kosovo as U.N. envoy.
He was architect of a European Union-backed plan for Kosovo's independence from Serbia which guaranteed Serb minority rights and was implemented bloodlessly after the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
"In 1989-90 he played a significant part in the establishment of Namibia's independence," the committee said.
"In 2005 he and his organization Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) were central to the solution of the complicated Aceh question in Indonesia."
"In 1999 and again in 2005-07, he sought under especially difficult circumstances to find a solution to the conflict in Kosovo," the committee said.
Ahtisaari was point man for Western Europe and the United States in 1999, delivering NATO's peace terms to then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to end the Kosovo air campaign.
Starting in the 1970s as a U.N. official, he helped Namibia move to independence, finally achieved in 1990.
"Naturally I am very pleased by the decision," Ahtisaari told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
"Namibia was absolutely the most important because it took such a long time," he said, but said his work in Aceh and the Balkans were also among the most significant.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was delighted to hear Ahtisaari had won the prize, a spokesman said.
"We have known him to be a man of honor, a man of integrity and a man who not only has full devotion to the cause of peace but also has the rare talents to help make it to practical priority on the ground," the spokesman said.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "As the U.N. secretary general's special envoy for Kosovo, he played a major role in contributing to the security and stability of the region of the Western Balkans."
Serbian reactions were cooler.
"He is a professional diplomat and a very skilful negotiator," Serbia's former Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic said. "However in Serbia he represents a symbol of Kosovo's independence and he will be remembered as an architect of Kosovo's secession."
Former Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said: "The prize has gone to the man who deserves it."
The award was seen as a swing back to the core values of the prize in peacemaking and disarmament after a prize last year to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for work on global warming.
Ahtisaari is the first peace broker to win since former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 2002 and the first European in a decade. He is also the first Finnish peace laureate.
Nobel committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said Ahtisaari had shown his "sisu" -- the Finnish word for "guts" or stubborn determination considered a trait of the Finns.
The prize will be presented in Oslo on December 10.
Additional reporting by Alister Doyle, Wojciech Moskwa, Richard Solem, Terje Solsvik, Telly Nathalia, Olivia Rondonuwu, Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Giles Elgood