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U.N. Awards Women Peacemakers

A Kosovar who became a symbol of resistance to Yugoslav repression, two Pakistani defenders of women's rights and a Rwandan who helped rebuild after the 1994 genocide were among honorees given the United Nations' first women's peace prizes.

Also honored with Millennium Peace Prizes for Women on Thursday, International Women's Day: a Papua New Guinea organization that worked to rebuilt trust between splintered communities, a Colombian group that stages massive women's peace demonstrations, and a worldwide network of women against war.

The prize is sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund and the London-based human rights organization International Alert. Organizers noted that women and their organizations have been mostly ignored by other peace prizes and have only won 10 Nobel Peace Prizes since 1901.

"The leadership that women have been asked to show in times of crisis is an issue of life and death," UNIFEM's Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer told the awards ceremony Thursday night.

"Very often, the kind of leadership that is shown by these very powerful women has gone unrecognized and unrewarded," she said. "But they are the ones who have held their communities together."

Flora Brovina, a Kosovar was jailed by the former Yugoslav government for aiding independence-seeking separatists and freed in November after Slobodan Milosevic was toppled from power, said The League of Albanian Women which she founded protested against the war and took care of women, children and the elderly.

"I am troubled today because the world learns of the tireless and valuable work of these women toward peace only when tragedies occur," she said.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani who won the award with her sister Hina Jilani for their two-decade struggle to defend women's rights and human rights, accepted it on behalf of women activists in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

"Bring women forward (in peace negotiations) and we will guarantee you peace," she said.

Veneranda Nzambazamariya of Rwanda, who headed a collective of more than 30 women's organizations created after the 1994 genocide, was honored posthumously for her key role in helping to restore peace to her country. She was killed in a plane crash a year ago off the Ivory Coast.

The three organizations that received the prize were Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres, a coalition of women's organizations working for peace in Colombia; the Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency, which has played a key role in peace negotiations and reconstruction in Papua New Guinea; and Women in Black, which started in Israel in 1988 and has held silent vigils in many countries to protest war.

At Thursday night's award ceremony, recipients mingled with U.N. ambassadors, business leadrs and celebrities including actress Glenn Close, award-winning director Lee Grant, and Dana Reeve, wife of former Superman star Christopher Reeve. The benefit dinner for more than 200 VIPs was cooked by chefs from 10 top New York restaurants.

Each winner received a bronze statue of a woman with her arm outstretched by American sculptor Tim Holmes.

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