OSLO (Reuters)–Northern Ireland politicians John Hume and David Trimble won the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for efforts to end 30 years of bloodshed in an accolade that omitted the IRA’s political wing.
Hume–head of the biggest Catholic nationalist party–and many foreign leaders hailed the prize as a spur to overcome barriers to peace in a province where 3,600 people have died in sectarian violence.
But Trimble–54–who leads the biggest Protestant party and is first minister for a new Northern Ireland assembly–sounded a more cautious note by expressing concern the prize might prove premature after a history of bloody setbacks.
"We know that while we have got the makings of a peace–it is not wholly secure yet. I hope it does not turn out to be premature," he said. A car bomb in the town of Omagh killed 29 people in August.
The five-member Nobel prize committee praised Hume and Trimble as the main architects of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord–preserving Northern Ireland’s links with Britain for the Protestant majority while building closer ties with Ireland.
It said the award–worth 7.6 million crowns ($960,000) was "for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland." The award will be handed out in a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.
Gerry Adams–the head of Sinn Fein–the political wing of the Irish Republican Army tipped as a possible winner for persuading the IRA to accept a truce–said he "warmly welcomed" the award and urged all sides to work for peace.
"I am not disappointed–I’m pleased for John Hume and I hope David Trimble will accept the responsibilities," he told a news conference in New York during a US tour.
President Bill Clinton praised Hume for his 30-year struggle for peace and Trimble for "rare courage."
"But I believe there are others too who deserve credit for their indispensable roles–beginning with Gerry Adams–the Sinn Fein leader without whom there would have been no peace," he added.
The prize statement praised "positive contributions…by other Northern Irish leaders–and by the governmen’s of Great Britain–Ireland and the United States."
Most politicians praised the award as an encouragement for peace–now snagged by disputes over republican guerrilla arms stockpiles.
"This award can serve as a spur to overcoming the remaining difficulties as we try to build a lasting peace," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said the award "consecrates peace between (Ireland’s) two main traditions."
"I hope (the prize) will give everyone renewed courage to go forward," he said.
Foreign leaders from South African President Nelson Mandela–who won the 1993 Nobel Prize–to 1994 laureate former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres–also welcomed the prize. "I think it’s an excellent choice," Peres said.
Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Hume called the award an honor for all in Northern Ireland. "It will strengthen our peace process enormously," he said.
Ulster Unionist Party head Trimble–who was asleep in Denver–Colorado–when the prize was announced–said he was only one of many who had worked for peace. "It was something that the people of Northern Ireland as a whole had worked for."
Francis Sejersted–head of the secretive prize committee–brushed aside controversy over the omission of Adams–saying criticisms might have been even stronger if the Sinn Fein leader had won.
"The committee has reached the conclusion that the two laureates are the two most worthy candidates," he said. "Gerry Adams is clearly one of those who has contributed."
In the only previous award to Northern Ireland–the 1976 prize went to Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams–co-founders of the "Community of the Peace People" that staged huge peaceful marches in the province in a backlash to the sectarian killings.