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Saturday, 6 May, 2000, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
The arms inspectors
Martti Ahtisaari: Long career in diplomacy
BBC News Online profiles former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and ex-ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa who have been named to lead the inspection of IRA arms.

Martti Ahtisaari has earned a worldwide reputation as a diplomat able to handle the thorniest of problems.

Most recently, he was put forward by the European Union as a mediator in the Kosovo crisis.

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He was seen as the ideal figure to bring together Nato and Russia - a long-time ally of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Finland is not a member of the alliance and had established ties to Moscow under Mr Ahtisaari - qualities that senior European leaders recognised as vital for negotiating with President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr Ahtisaari's peace mission to Belgrade with Moscow's special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin resulted in Belgrade's acceptance of a peace plan to end the Kosovo conflict. Mr Chernomyrdin described the Finn's role as "very important".

Born in 1937, Mr Ahtisaari gained his reputation as an international envoy after a long career in diplomacy with the United Nations.

He headed the UN's monitoring of Namibia's transition to independence in 1990 and in 1993 he was one of a number of European envoys who tried to prevent the former Yugoslavia sliding further into ethnic conflict.

Role of inspectors would be to:
visit IRA arms dumps
check weapons remain secure
report back to decommissioning body
re-inspect dumps
Standing on the social democrat ticket, Mr Ahtisaari was elected president of Finland a year later with a mandate to improve relations with Russia and conclude European Union membership negotiations.

Finland voted to enter the EU in 1995 and Mr Ahtisaari was credited with improving relations with Moscow, arguing Russia has a vital role to play in establishing the future security of the continent.

Anti-apartheid activist

Cyril Ramaphosa, former secretary-general of the African National Congress (ANC), is one of South Africa's most influential black leaders.

A former trade union leader, he is now a successful businessman.

Cyril Ramaphosa
Cyril Ramaphosa: Crucial link in SA election talks
Born in Soweto, a collection of black townships south west of Johannesburg in 1952, he experienced the ugliness of South Africa's then-official policy of racial discrimination in 1960, in an encounter that affected him for years afterward.

In that year, during the state of emergency imposed by the government, to quell the unrest that erupted after police killed 69 black demonstrators in the town of Sharpeville, white soldiers were stationed in the area where Mr Ramaphosa's family lived.

One day, as Mr Ramaphosa was walking to school, a soldier kicked him into a ditch for no apparent reason.

He recalled later: "After being kicked like that, I felt bitter against white people, which took me a long time to overcome. But I began to realise that it was the reality of the South African situation."

Solitary confinement

He entered politics as a student at the University of the North at Turfloop, one of the ethnic colleges set up by the government, and was detained for the first time in 1974 after organising a rally on the campus.

He was charged with violating South Africa's Terrorism Act and held in solitary confinement at the Pretoria Central Prison.

He qualified as a lawyer and worked initially in the legal department of a trade union grouping. In 1982 he was elected as the first general-secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, which rapidly grew to become the largest trade union in South Africa.

He played a prominent part in the protest politics of the 1980s and in 1991 became the secretary-general of the ANC, resigning in 1996.

He was perhaps the ANC's most effective representative during the complex sequence of formal negotiations that began in December 1991 and led towards South Africa's first-ever all-race elections in 1994.

He later chaired the multi-party commission that drafted South Africa's first democratic constitution.

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See also:

06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms offer
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms deadline extended
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA statement in full
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Governments outline agreement timetable
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Assembly statement in full
02 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Q and A: Northern Ireland talks
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Mixed reaction to IRA offer
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