Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was appointed UN special envoy for the political process of determining Kosovo's future status on November 14th, 2005.
Ahtisaari was born on June 23rd, 1937 in Viipuri, Finland. He graduated from the University of Oulu, Finland in 1959. Thirty years later, it awarded him an honorary doctorate.
Ahtisaari joined the Finnish foreign ministry 1965, serving in various posts in its Bureau for Technical Co-operation over the next seven years, including as assistant director from 1971 to 1972. He was then appointed deputy director of the ministry's Department for International Development Co-operation, a post he held until 1973. Meanwhile, he was also a member of a governmental advisory body on trade and industrialisation affairs of developing countries.
From 1973 to 1976, Ahtisaari served as Finland's ambassador to Tanzania. In the final year of his three-year mandate, he was also accredited to Zambia, Somalia and Mozambique, and served as a member of the Senate of the UN Institute for Namibia. In 1977, he was appointed UN Commissioner for Namibia. He held that post until 1981, serving also as the UN Secretary General's special representative for the country.
From 1984 to 1986, Ahtisaari was undersecretary of state at the Finnish Foreign Ministry, where he supervised international development co-operation. He also served as governor for Finland at the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as the International Fund for Agricultural Development. During the same period, he headed the Board of Directors of the Finnish Industrialisation Fund for developing countries.
From January 1st, 1987 to June 30th, 1991, Ahtisaari served as UN undersecretary general for administration and management. Meanwhile, between 1989 and 1990, he again was the UN Secretary General's special representative for Namibia and led the UN operation (UNTAG) in that country. He returned to the Finnish foreign ministry in July 1991 as secretary of state.
From the beginning of September 1992 to mid-April 1993, Ahtisaari chaired the Bosnia and Herzegovina working group of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia. From the beginning of July 1993, he served for four months as Special Adviser to the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia and to the UN Secretary General's special representative for the former Yugoslavia.
Ahtisaari won the February 1994 presidential election in Finland as a candidate of the country's Social Democratic Party. He served as Finnish president from March 1st, 1994 until March 1st, 2000.
Upon leaving office, Ahtisaari founded an NGO, the Crisis Management Initiative, whose board he heads. In his post-presidential years he has also acted as co-chair of the New York-based EastWest Institute (until September 2005), member of the joint advisors' group for the Open Society Institute and the Soros Foundations, which and Chairman of the Balkan Children and Youth Foundation and Global Action Council of the International Youth Foundation. Until 2003 he was also a member of the Board of Directors of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and until 2004 the Chairman of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
In 2005, Ahtisaari led the peace negotiations between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government. The agreement reached in August the same year ended the 30-year armed conflict in Indonesia's Aceh region.
Three months later, Ahtisaari was appointed UN special envoy for the Kosovo status process.
After a several-week period of shuttle diplomacy, direct talks between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials were launched on February 20th, 2006 in Vienna. The negotiations failed to produce an agreement as the two sides remained "diametrically opposed" in their positions. On March 26th, 2007, Ahtisaari presented to the UN Security Council his proposals for a solution, envisioning granting Kosovo internationally supervised independence.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority accepted the plan, but Serbia rejected it immediately, calling for further negotiations. Backing Belgrade's position, Russia blocked a Security Council decision supporting Ahtisaari's proposals for a solution and an EU-US-Russian troika was set up to lead new talks between Belgrade and Pristina. The negotiations ended on December 10th, 2007, again without a deal.
Eventually, Kosovo adopted a unilateral declaration of independence on February 17th, 2008, vowing to implement Ahtisaari's plan.
Besides his native Finnish, Ahtisaari speaks also Swedish, French, English and German.