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Laureates Descend on Oslo for 100th Anniversary of Nobel Peace Prize - 2001-12-06

A five-day observance is underway in Oslo, Norway, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize. The highlight comes Monday (December 10), when this year's prize is awarded to the United Nations and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan. Most of the 39 living Nobel peace laureates are in Oslo for the celebration.

The normally placid Norwegian capital is on high alert. In a country where police do not normally carry weapons, 600 armed officers are on duty. A pair of F-16 fighter jets is on standby, and Oslo has been declared a no-fly zone during the festivities, because Osama bin Laden singled out the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan as two of his targets.

The annual peace prize celebration has been expanded this year for its 100th anniversary. The Nobel Institute is sponsoring a three-day symposium titled "Conflicts of the 20th century and Solutions for the 21st century". Institute Research Director Olav Njoelstad said prominent scholars have been invited to discuss the problems of peace and war with former peace prize winners.

"We have asked the scholars to analyze what went wrong in 20th century, and then to invite laureates to come up with suggestions and proposals for how to we could avoid [making] the same mistakes in future," explained Mr. Njoelstad. "We focus on several more specific themes, related to the issue 'war and peace'."

Mr. Njoelstad said several participants in the symposium plan to focus their remarks on the September terrorist attacks in the United States and the consequences of those attacks, especially the military operations in Afghanistan. "We can already see from statements we have received from some of the former laureates, they will be very much focusing on events that have occurred during the last couple of months, and trying to relate these events to broader topics we are discussing," he said. "So I think it will have a contemporary touch, even if you are discussing the whole century."

All 39 living former Nobel Peace Prize winners have been invited to participate in the symposium. Some, such as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are unable to attend. But Nobel Institute General Secretary, Geir Lundestad, said more than 30 may be there. "We are uncertain exactly how many will be coming, because there have been some last-minute problems, both for Gorbachev, who is in hospital, and also for Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, and we can read that in the papers," he said. But we have a long list [including] last year's (winner) Kim dae-Jung, Oscar Arias, Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, and a whole array of distinguished laureates."

Other laureates who will be absent include former South African President Nelson Mandela, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The 1999 winner, the human rights group Amnesty International, is organizing a candlelight procession through Oslo December 10, where several Nobel laureates will join in an appeal for Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest in Burma.

In another development, a former member of the peace prize selection committee is calling for the panel to publicly express regret for awarding the 1994 prize to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Kaare Kristiansen quit the five-member committee when Mr. Arafat was selected to share the prize with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

But Geir Lundestad of the Nobel Institute said there would be no expression of regret. He told reporters that while the selection committee had undoubtedly made mistakes during its 100 years, it would never publicly express regret for any award.