Nobel boycott of peace meet after Dalai Lama denied visa

The Nobel peace prize committee said on Monday it would not participate in a conference in South Africa unless the country reconsiders a decision to deny the 1989 peace prize laureate Dalai Lama an entry visa.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee will in no way participate in the conference alongside Nobel peace prize laureates if South African authorities do not revise their refusal to give the Dalai Lama a visa,” said Geir Lundestad, the head of the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

Lundestad and the former head of the Nobel Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, had been scheduled to attend the Peace Conference hosted by South Africa’s living Nobel laureates, former presidents FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“Unless the South African decision is rapidly changed we will not go,” Lundestad said.

South Africa said on Monday the Dalai Lama has been denied a visa to meet here with other Nobel laureates, arguing his visit would overshadow the country’s preparations to host the 2010 World Cup.

Both Tutu and De Klerk confirmed they would no longer be attending the conference.

Nobel peace prize winners from each continent were invited to attend the event on Friday in Johannesburg, where they were to discuss using soccer to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But Thabo Masebe, spokesperson for President Kgalema Motlanthe, said “there is no visa” for the Dalai Lama because his visit would draw attention away from the tournament.

Organisers of the conference had not consulted with the government before extending the invitation to the Dalai Lama, Masebe said.

“We in the South African government have not invited the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa, because it would not be in the interests of South Africa,” he said.

“The attention of the world is on South Africa because of it being the host country for the 2010 World Cup, and we wouldn’t want anything to distract from that,” he added.

A spokesperson for the spiritual leader said he was “very disappointed” by the decision.

“It is true that South Africa, under intense pressure from the Chinese authorities, have denied a visa to the Dalai Lama,” said spokesperson Thubten Samphel told in Dharamshala, India, home of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

“The Chinese government does not like any government to host the Dalai Lama because they feel his presence attracts media attention to the deplorable human rights conditions in Tibet,” he said.

“African states are vulnerable to Chinese pressure because of huge Chinese investments there and so this is a case of business winning over human rights and good behaviour.”

South African foreign ministry spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa denied pressure from China had played a role in the visa being denied.

“What is critical to know is we are an independent sovereign country which makes independent sovereign decisions,” he said.

“The decision has nothing to do with the Dalai Lama as a person. Before, we have allowed him in despite our recognition of a One China policy,” Mamoepa added.

During a 1999 visit to South Africa, then-president Thabo Mbeki refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, citing scheduling difficulties, but local media blamed Chinese pressure for the brush-off.

China’s minister counsellor at the embassy in Pretoria, Dai Bing, was quoted as saying in local media that his government had urged South Africa to deny the visit or risk damaging bilateral relations.

Dai told the paper that it was an “inopportune time” for the Dalai Lama to visit, coming just after the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against China’s rule of Tibet, which led to the exile of the region’s most revered spiritual figure.

China has launched a massive security clampdown in recent weeks to quell possible unrest related to the anniversary, one year after riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa that spread to other areas in China inhabited by Tibetans.

The blocking of the Dalai Lama’s visit cast doubt on the conference, as both Tutu and De Klerk decided not to attend.

“He has confirmed he is not attending,” said Tutu’s spokesperson Tamu Matose.

Addressing local media Tutu said: “We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed.”

Former president De Klerk released a statement saying he would “reluctantly not participate in the peace conference ...
if a visa is not granted to enable the Dalai Lama to attend the conference as well”.

South Africa is China’s key trading partner in Africa, accounting for 20.8 percent of the total volume of China-Africa trade in 2008 with total trade at about R100-billion.—AFP

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