- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Norway and the prize

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded not just to those who achieve peace but also to those who work to end conflicts, Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek explained.

He cited Yasser Arafat as an example. The Palestinian leader now denounced in Washington as an obstacle to peace received the prize in 1994, a year after signing peace accords brokered in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. He won the prize along with Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, who was later assassinated by an Israeli extremist.

"The Nobel Peace Prize is clearly used actively as a tool to encourage the promotion of peace," he told the World Federalist Association earlier this month. "In my opinion, this practice does not reduce the value of the prize."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2001 prize to the United Nations and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The prize is awarded in December, and nominations are usually announced in October.

"Increasingly the world is faced with problems of a global nature that call for global solutions," he said.

"The United Nations is today the only international institution with a global mandate, a global membership and a global agenda. This gives the U.N. a unique role to play in dealing with these and other issues that are important to our future."

Mr. Vollebaek acknowledged that the United Nations is far from a "perfect institution," and that it needs reforms to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

"At the same time, we should bear in mind that the U.N. will never be better or achieve more than the member states allow," he said.

Norway, he noted, currently holds the chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council.

"One of the Norwegian government's main priorities in the council is to focus on the underlying reasons for war and conflict. As we have seen time and again, economic factors are often pronounced," he said.

Slovakia at the door

Slovakia is standing at the door of NATO but could still find its entry blocked if voters make the wrong choice at the next election, according to U.S. Ambassador Ronald Weiser.

Mr. Weiser, speaking on a recent visit to eastern Slovakia, noted that the country has made great progress since it rejected Vladimir Meciar, the former prime minister who Washington considered authoritarian and anti-NATO.

"Democracy is stronger. Slovakia's [nongovernmental organizations] belong to the best groups in Europe, and the country has been admitted to the OECD," he said, referring to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"This all confirms that you stand before the doors of NATO and the European Union," he said.

Mr. Weiser said his mission is to make Slovakia the best prepared of the nine countries that are seeking to join NATO at the November summit in the neighboring Czech Republic.

He called the September elections "a crucial moment, as their results can decide on Slovakia's admission to both NATO and the EU." Mr. Weiser also encouraged the "highest possible" turnout of voters.

Mr. Weiser and other Western officials have warned Slovakia against re-electing Mr. Meciar, whose Movement for a Democratic Slovakia remains the most popular political party.

Risk in Venezuela

The U.S. Embassy in Venezuela is warning American citizens to stay away from the country's border with Colombia because Colombian rebels are targeting Americans for kidnappings.

The embassy urged Americans to avoid any area within 50 miles of the border.

"The Department of State has received evidence that Colombian terrorist groups are increasingly targeting U.S. citizens in Venezuela's Amazonas state for kidnapping, specifically near the border with Colombia," the embassy said in a statement.

Heavy fighting broke out on the border last week between Colombian government troops and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC by its Spanish initials.

The State Department has classified FARC as a terrorist group.

Colombian officials said the rebels were operating out of camps in Venezuela, a charge Venezuela denied.

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