Rows over Peace Prize rock Nobel Committee

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IT ARRIVED like a storm in a Norwegian tea cup. A press report that the normally secretive Nobel Committee not only leaked the names of this year's Peace Prize winners ahead of the official announcement but also revealed details of stormy meetings and threats of resignations has rocked Norway and plunged the selection committee into crisis.

The cause of the row, according to the Oslo daily Aftenposten, is the apparent decision to give the 7 million Kronor ( pounds 622,000) award to the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, for their landmark peace accord.

While both men were hotly tipped to receive the award, possibly along with members of their negotiating teams, the decision to honour Mr Arafat was too much for one committee member, Kare Kristiansen, a long-time supporter of Israel. The paper said Mr Kristiansen opposed the choice because he considers Mr Arafat a terrorist.

Peter Beck, a member of the Aftenposten team that reported the story, said the five-member committee's decision so angered Mr Kristiansen that he walked out of a meeting last Friday and threatened to resign in protest.

The award will be announced on Friday, and so far both Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat have refused to comment. Mr Kristiansen declined to confirm or deny the report. But when told during an interview with Israeli radio yesterday that some Israelis would appreciate his stand, Mr Kristiansen answered: 'Thank you very much.'

The Nobel Peace Prize is no stranger to controversy. In its 93-year history, there have often been outcries over the winners. However, Mr Beck said this year's crisis is extraordinary. 'Under the very statutes that govern the committee, there is supposed to be public consensus,' he said.

The dispute is the committee's worst since 1973, when two members submitted their resignations after the prize was awarded to then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and Le Duc Tho, then Vietnamese leader. The two members, however, served out their terms.

The public controversy this year indicated an intense debate behind the scenes. If Mr Kristiansen resigns now, he would be the first member of the committee to step down in protest before the end of his term. He started his five-year term in 1991.