OSLO (Reuters) - Six countries declined invitations to the December 10 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo after an unprecedented campaign by China to sabotage attendance, the Norwegian Nobel Committee told Reuters.
The six nations that declined are Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco, Iraq and China itself. They gave no reason for declining, said Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the accolade.
China has sent letters to foreign ministries and embassies urging diplomats to stay away from the ceremony in Oslo and warning of “consequences” for those who support the pro-democracy activist.
Lundestad said China had mounted a campaign to persuade diplomats to avoid the awards ceremony in Oslo, and had returned all mail sent by the Committee unopened.
“I don’t know of any example where a country has so actively and directly tried to have ambassadors stay away from a Nobel ceremony,” he told Reuters.
Another 16 countries had not replied to the invitation by the committee’s extended deadline of Thursday morning but might still reply later and attend, Lundestad said Thursday.
“China is not the only factor in this,” Lundestad added. “There are always some ambassadors that don’t come for some reason, and they don’t have to say why.”
“The big question this year is China, and how China is able to affect the decisions of others,” he said. “Several countries have to check with their home governments .... This has become a delicate issue with some governments.”
The Nobel Committee sent invitations to 58 countries with embassies in Norway, and 36 have accepted.
According to an Asian diplomat, the Vietnamese, Philippine and Indonesian envoys to Norway will not attend.
Hanoi’s will not come because the dissident Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do was nominated for the 2010 prize, while the Philippine and Indonesian ambassadors will be travelling at the time, the diplomat said.
Lundestad confirmed that Vietnam was among the 16 countries that did not reply to the invitation.
There was no comment from the Russian, Kazakh and Cuban embassies in Oslo.
Among those who have not yet confirmed their attendance are India and South Africa.
A spokesman for the Indian embassy in Norway told Reuters he “was not in a position to give an answer,” while a spokeswoman for the South African embassy said: “We are still awaiting instructions from our head office.”
Earlier this week a Japanese government spokesman in Tokyo said its ambassador to Norway would attend.
Even with some diplomatic no-shows, Lundestad said, he expected 1,000 or so admirers of Liu Xiaobo to attend the ceremony at Oslo City Hall.
However, because Lundestad says Liu’s family appears to have been denied permission to travel — his wife has been held under virtual house arrest since the prize was announced — the committee intends to hold on to the medal, diploma and cheque for 10 million Swedish crowns (912,000 pounds).
Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Hanoi, Gwladys Fouche and Wojciech Moskwa in Oslo; Editing by Alison Williams