OSLO — The chairman of Norway's Nobel Committee today rejected charges that it chose Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez for this year's Nobel Peace Prize prematurely or in an attempt to manipulate him.
The charge was leveled by Adolfo Calero, leader of the contra rebels, who are fighting Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government with U.S. aid.
The contras oppose the Central America peace accord that Arias authored and that five Central American presidents, including Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, signed on Aug. 7.
Calero said Wednesday the Nobel Committee "had jumped the gun because there is no peace yet in Central America" and that "maybe they gave this peace prize to manipulate Arias."
"That's ridiculous. That never happens, and least of all it would have happened this year," Nobel Committee Chairman Egil Aarvik said in a telephone interview from his home.
In its citation Tuesday, the committee praised Arias for making "an outstanding contribution to the possible return of stability and peace to a region long torn by strife and civil war."
Aarvik, 74, said the five-member committee was well aware that the peace process in Central America is incomplete.
"As stated clearly in our citation, we gave the prize to Arias not to manipulate him or any others, but because, as we said, we see him as the main architect of a peace plan which is part of a peace process," he said.
Aarvik also said the criticism of the award by some U.S. Republican congressmen was predictable.
"We can always expect some criticism, like in this case from some hawks among American legislators," said Aarvik, a newspaper editor who has been chairman of the committee for 15 years.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel said after the award was announced, "I don't know that the Norwegians got all that much to say about what goes on in Central America." A Republican presidential hopeful, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, also criticized the decision.