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OSLO (Reuters Life!) - The Nobel Peace Prize has strayed far from the purpose set by its creator, Swedish inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel, in his 1895 will and many laureates are undeserving, a new Norwegian book says.
The scope of the prize first awarded in 1901 has expanded over the decades from its roots in disarmament and peace congresses, widening into human rights advocacy from the 1960s and even to work to protect the environment this century.
That, said author Fredrik Heffermehl, is not what Nobel intended in establishing the prize and assigning it to a Norwegian committee to award to "champions of peace."
"We have moved very far from the intention of Nobel," Heffermehl said on Wednesday in a presentation of his book "Nobel's Will" to foreign correspondents in Oslo, where the 2008 peace prize winner will be announced on October 10.
Nobel's will said the peace prize should be awarded for "the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."
Heffermehl, who is an attorney and peace activist, reviewed all of the winners of the illustrious award and said that only 70 out of 118 individuals and organizations that have won the prize have conformed to the stipulations of Nobel's will.
Forty-eight prizes, including one to Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1979 and last year's to former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N. climate panel, missed the mark because they were not for the kind of peace work intended by Nobel, he said.
Heffermehl is not alone in criticizing the expanded scope of the peace prize, which went in 2004 to Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai and in 2006 to Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank for fighting poverty with tiny loans.
"The will and the intention of Nobel is much more important today than ever before," Heffermehl said, noting that modern weapons have made mankind capable of obliterating itself.
Geir Lundestad, secretary to the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee appointed by Norway's parliament, said the committee would not engage in a public debate with Heffermehl.
"While Heffermehl is convinced that he possesses the only correct interpretation of Nobel's will, virtually all committees since 1901 have interpreted the will in a different way," Lundestad said in a brief statement to Reuters.
Some experts and bookmakers expect a human rights activist, perhaps from China or Russia, to win this year's peace prize.
Editing by Paul Casciato