Tuesday, March 24, 2009

South African Government Reaffirms Strong Relations With the People's Republic of China

Nobel laureates mull boycotting S.Africa conference over the Dalai Lama

Mon Mar 23, 2009 3:18pm GMT
By Agnieszka Flak

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Several Nobel peace prize laureates have threatened to boycott a conference in South Africa after Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was denied a visa.

He was to join Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu, Martti Ahtisaari and FW de Klerk, as well as Norway's Nobel Peace Committee, at the conference scheduled for March 27.

"If the Dalai Lama doesn't come, I'm not going ... I'm very disappointed," Tutu told Reuters.

South Africa's Sunday Independent said his visa was refused due to pressure from the Chinese government. Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.

China has been on a major investment drive in Africa and is an important trade partner.

Government spokesman Thabo Masebe said the Dalai Lama's presence in South Africa was not in the country's best interest at the moment.

The conference was expected to use soccer as a way of fighting xenophobia and racism ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

"The attention of the world on us is in relation to us hosting the World Cup next year and we would like that to remain ... the presence of the Dalai Lama would bring other issues into attention," Masebe told Reuters.

South Africa has prided itself as a model of democracy and human rights since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and set up a Tibetan government-in-exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Rioting broke out last March in Tibet's main city of Lhasa after several days of peaceful protests by monks against Beijing's rule, killing 19 people and sparking a wave of violence across Tibetan areas. Exile groups say more than 200 people died in the crackdown.

The Dalai Lama was invited to participate in the conference by Tutu, De Klerk and former President Nelson Mandela.

De Klerk said the decision to refuse the visa was a mockery of the purpose of the peace conference.

"The host country should admit anyone with a legitimate and peaceful interest and should not take political decisions on who should, and who should not, attend and participate in such activities," his foundation said in a statement.

"South Africa is a sovereign constitutional democracy and should not allow other countries to dictate to it regarding who it should, and should not admit to its territory."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the peace prize annually in Oslo, also criticised the South African decision.

"It is impossible for us to be part of an event where one of the main participants is not able to enter the country," said Geir Lundestad, the committee's secretary.

Lundestad said the committee had also been disappointed by South Africa's refusal in the past to join U.N. condemnation of Myanmar over its treatment of the 1991 peace laureate, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Masebe said the decision was not a criticism of the Dalai Lama himself, who visited the country twice in the past.

"This does not mean that South Africa has a problem with the Dalai Lama ... if this is a conference about football and peace, it should be able to proceed anyway," he said.

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