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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Changing scope of Nobel peace prize
By Lars Bevanger
BBC News, Oslo

Muhammad Yunus, hugged by his daughter, Dina
Mr Yunus had not been among the favourites to win this year's prize
There was a moment of surprised silence among the gathered journalists as this year's winners of the Nobel Peace Prize were announced.

In the days leading up to the announcement, the main focus had been on the parties to one of the very few really successful peace deals in our days - the agreement between the Indonesian government and rebels in the Aceh region.

In a year with such a clear positive effort in the drive to stop armed conflict, few if any had guessed that the prize would go to Bangladeshi banker and economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank.

The choice represents a furthering of the Norwegian Nobel Committee's expressed desire to expand the scope of the prize beyond acknowledging those directly involved in preventing armed conflict.

When the prize was awarded to environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004, some here wondered what her fight against African de-forestation had to do with peace.

In his speech to that year's Nobel Laureate, the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, argued her work also contributed to promoting democracy and human rights.

"Today there are few things peace researchers and other scholars are readier to agree on than precisely that democracy and human rights advance peace", Mr Mjoes said.

Tangible link

The link between poverty and peace is perhaps more tangible, and few will be critical of the Nobel Committee's decision to honour the work of Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank to provide poor entrepreneurs with the financial ability to help themselves.

2006: Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank
2005: Mohamed ElBaradei and International Atomic Energy Agency
2004: Wangari Maathai (Kenyan environmentalist)
2003: Shirin Ebadi (Iranian human rights lawyer)
2002: Jimmy Carter (former US president)
2001: Kim Dae-jung (South Korean president)
Sverre Lodgaard, the director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and also first deputy member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told the BBC this year's prize was spot on.

"The committee has in later years been good at expanding its view on what the prize should entail. That they now include development is great.

"More people die each year from poverty than from war, so a fight against the violence which is perpetrated through the extreme division in our world's resources is very welcome", Mr Lodgaard said.

'Aceh missed out'

But some feel the Nobel Committee this year missed a rare chance to honour a tangible result of straightforward conflict prevention.

It could have been awarded to this year's winner in almost any year
Stein Toennesson
International Peace Research Institute, Oslo
The director of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Stein Toennesson, said he was happy on behalf of Mr Yunus, but argued that it was unfortunate the prize this year had not gone to the people behind the peace deal in Indonesia's Aceh province.

"I feel Aceh deserved the prize this year. This was a year where something was actually achieved, and Alfred Nobel himself in his will underlined the prize should go to someone who had achieved something in the past year.

"[Awarding it to Mr Yunus] makes the prize less topical. It could have been awarded to this year's winner in almost any year," Mr Toennesson said.

The former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari, who negotiated the end to decades of bloody conflict between the Indonesian government and Free Aceh rebels last year, could still be in the running for the prize in years to come, however.

He is very much an active diplomat, and responsible for driving home a final settlement for the status of Kosovo.

Criticism of its choice of winners is very unlikely to have any impact on the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The five members of the extremely secretive body are mostly retired politicians, who say no criticism at home or abroad will sway future decisions.

Muhammad Yunis is known as the 'banker to the poor'

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