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Agence France-Presse
29-09-06, 11:12
Ex-Finnish, Indon heads, Chinese exile vie for Nobel prize

Agence France-Presse
Last updated 11:18am (Mla time) 09/29/2006

OSLO -- Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari is tipped to win this year's Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a peace accord in Aceh, though he faces stiff competition from Chinese exile Rebiya Kadeer and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

With just days to go before the big announcement on October 13, the leanings of the Norwegian Nobel Committee remain a tightly-guarded secret.

In all, 191 candidates are in the running for the prestigious award, including 168 individuals and 23 organizations.

Ahtisaari, president of Finland between 1994 and 2000, has been nominated several times in recent years and appears to be leading this year's field.

He oversaw talks last year in Helsinki that led to a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and rebels in the Aceh province and put an end to a three-decade conflict that killed some 15,000 people.

"I think that Ahtisaari is the clear favorite this year due to his work in Aceh," said Stein Toennesson, head of the Oslo Peace Research Institute (PRIO) and one of the only peace experts in Norway willing to speculate about possible laureates.

"It's the only peace process that has really been successful," he added.

The 69-year-old Finn is currently the UN special envoy for talks on the final status of Kosovo, a role that has earned him praise from Albanians but criticism from Serbs.

"Statements by the Serbs could work against him. As well as his style, he has a very direct approach in his statements. But the Nobel Committee is aware of his personality," said Toennesson. "And the fact that it could also be necessary to speak frankly in Kosovo."

Others who stand a good chance of winning include Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for his role in talks leading to the August 2005 Aceh peace agreement.

“Yudhoyono's chances are good because he is Muslim and it is conceivable the Committee would like to award the prize to a Muslim,” said Toennesson.

“During the Mohammed cartoon row he wrote a very balanced article [on the crisis] in the International Herald Tribune,” Toennesson said.

Choosing Yudhoyono could however prove controversial in the wake of Indonesia's execution of three Catholics on September 22. The trio was convicted of leading a militia that killed Muslims during clashes between the two faiths in 2000-2001 that left more than 1,000 people dead.

The PRIO director noted Yudhoyono's military career could also count against him, giving the advantage to China's Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of the Uighur ethnic group.

"She's the ideal candidate: she's a woman, she's Muslim and she's Chinese," Toennesson said.

The Uighurs, the largest ethnic group in China's far northwest Xinjiang region, are an overwhelmingly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people. They accuse the ruling Chinese of political, religious and cultural repression.

While bookies judge Ahtisaari, Yudhoyono, and Kadeer the frontrunners, the Indonesian president remains their favorite.

An Australian Internet betting site, Centrebet, has quoted odds of 2.75-to-1 for Ahtisaari to win, and puts Yudhoyono 3-to-1 and Kadeer at 15-to-1.

Other possible winners include the Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Do, currently under house arrest, for his work in promoting democracy and freedom of expression.

While the Nobel Committee never discloses who is on the list of potential laureates, those who nominate candidates are allowed to disclose their choice.

Known to be on the list for this year are thus Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and rock star Bob Geldof for his fight against poverty.

But other names that have circulated include former US secretary of state Colin Powell for his work to establish peace in Sudan, and the Tiananmen Mothers for their fight for democracy in China.

The laureate will receive the award, as tradition dictates, on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of prize founder Alfred Nobel.

The prize includes a medal, a diploma and a check for 10 million kronor, (1.37 million dollars, 1.07 million euros).

Last year the prize went to the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA and its Egyptian director Mohamed ElBaradei.


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