Got conflict? Mr. Ahtisaari is your man.
(Page 2 of 2)
His presence, however, proved necessary right up until the last moment, cajoling, probing, reassuring, and occasionally threatening the two sides.Skip to next paragraph
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By then, he had the weight of experience behind him, having played key roles in Namibia's independence and the Northern Ireland peace process, among other troubleshooting assignments.
He'd also completed a six-year stint as president of Finland.
Though GAM leaders were often disappointed in him, says GAM negotiator Bakhtiar Abdullah, "we respected his past achievements in other fields - and the fact that he was a past president - he was a credible negotiator."
His style as a mediator, say people who have worked with him, is firm. "He knows how to play stern, how to be like a father," says Sofyan Jalil, the Indonesian Minister of Information and Communication, who was on the government negotiating team at the Aceh talks. Mr. Christensen has another way of putting it: Ahtisaari is like "a headmaster," he says.
"There is no point in being nice for the sake of being nice," explains the man himself. "You can't avoid difficult issues."
Underlying this approach, says Sidney Jones, an expert on Indonesia with the International Crisis Group who briefed Ahtisaari before the negotiations began, is enormous self-confidence.
"He wasn't particularly knowledgeable about Aceh," she recalls, "but he had no doubts that whatever the difficulties, he would get over them."
Ahtisaari doesn't quarrel with that. "In this business you have to have fairly strong self-confidence," he says. "But you mustn't use it as an ego trip."
Others see his self-assuredness in a less flattering light.
"Personally I don't like him because I feel he's very, very arrogant," complains Mr. Abdullah. "He doesn't seem to have a sense of humor; he is more of a very firm person."
Generally, say people who know him, Ahtisaari is a good listener. "He didn't lead from the front, saying 'this is how we are going to do it,' " recalls Damien Kingsbury, an Australian academic who advised the GAM delegation at the Helsinki talks. "He wasn't a one-man show, and he listened to the other parties."
Sometimes, though, he can flare up. "It's easy to see when he's mad," says Mr. Bakhtiar. "He listens to you attentively with a sour expression, then he just bursts and throws his pencil on the table. Then, you know, uh-oh."
Ahtisaari smiles when asked about his temper tantrums. "Perhaps a little bit of theatrics help in some situations," he acknowledges. "I can probe them, nudge them forward, sometimes be fairly tough. But I'm an old man. I tell my younger colleagues 'Don't you try this.' "
As an "old man" past normal retirement age and entitled to a generous UN pension, why does he go on doing what he does?
"Perhaps it's a curse, but when you are a Lutheran you have a sense of responsibility," he says with a shrug.
"And I'm one of those people who as long as I am still healthy and my thoughts are more or less clear, I don't think I can retire entirely."
At the same time, he adds, "I am in this game for root causes. I am very practically oriented and I want to have results. These tasks are such...that you can put a little bit extra into the efforts of extraordinary people to help them" succeed.
"But I have no superhuman powers," he says. "If people don't want to make peace, there is nothing I can do."
1977-1990: Led the UN efforts to win Namibian independence from South African rule, brokering the final face-to-face negotiations.
1991: Led the UN mission immediately after the Gulf War to evaluate the humanitarian and economic situation in Iraq.
1992-1993: Engaged in the failed international efforts to end the war in the former Yugoslavia
1994-2000: President of Finland
1999: As EU special envoy on Kosovo, delivered NATO's surrender terms to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
2000-2001: Inspected secret IRA arms dumps to ensure weapons out of use.
2005: Brokered a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and rebel forces in the province of Aceh.
2005 - present: Chairing UN-sponsored talks between Serb and Kosovar authorities on the future status of Kosovo.