Marianne Heiberg, Player in Oslo Peace Accords, 59

OSLO - Marianne Heiberg, who helped mediate secret peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in the Norwegian capital a decade ago, has died. She was 59.

Heiberg died of a heart attack on Sunday, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs said yesterday.

A renowned expert on the Middle East, she was married to Norwegian foreign minister Johan Joergen Holst, who took the lead in brokering months of secret talks that led to the now tattered 1993 Oslo accords. Holst died of a stroke in January 1994.

Heiberg, Holst, academic Terje Roed-Larsen and his wife, diplomat Mona Juul, and then-deputy foreign minister Jan Egeland formed the core of the Norwegian team that brought Palestinians and Israelis together for the secret backroom talks in Oslo.

The agreement for limited Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho was initialed in a late-night ceremony in Oslo in August 1993, and then signed on the White House lawn in Washington a month later.

Born in 1945 in Oslo, Heiberg joined the Oslo-based Norwegian Institute of International Affairs in 1983, where she remained a senior researcher until her death.

After the Oslo peace effort, Heiberg served as acting director for the projects and development office of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees, from 1994-95.