South African peace conference called off over Dalai Lama ban (Lead)

March 24th, 2009 - 8:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, March 24 (DPA) The organisers of a peace conference in South Africa Tuesday postponed the event indefinitely after the government refused to issue the Dalai Lama a visa to attend, causing other Nobel peace laureates to pull out.
The conference, which was due to be held Friday, had planned to promote peace through football in advance of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next year.

The decision to postpone it had been expected after South African archbishop emeritus, Desmond Tutu, former president F.W. De Klerk and the Norwegian Nobel Committee all said they would boycott it unless the government came back on its decision to refuse entry to the Dalai Lama.

Irvin Khoza, one of the committee members of the conference, told reporters: “Given that the purpose of the conference is peace, the convenors don’t want to put the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in a position where there will be conflict.”

A Dalai Lama aide in India’s Dharamsala, where the Buddhist monk is heading the Tibetan government-in-exile, told IANS that the organisers of the peace event had no other option.

“There is no alternative for the organisers as Nobel laureates like Desmond Tutu and F.W. De Klerk and the Norwegian Nobel Committee have announced that they would boycott the conference unless the government gives a visa to the Dalai Lama,” said Sonam N. Dagpo, secretary of the international affairs of the government-in-exile.

“China has influenced South Africa over issuing visa to His Holiness (the Dalai Lama)… such tactics are very, very disappointing. The spiritual guru does not want to put people, foreign countries and organisers to inconvenience,” he said.

“South Africa had succumbed to Chinese pressure,” Dagpo added.

The South African government has assured it has “nothing against the Dalai Lama” but that his presence would not be “in the best interests of the country” and would detract attention from the World Cup.

In reality, the government is believed to have bowed to pressure from China, a close ally, not to allow the Tibetan spiritual leader visit.

A presidential spokesman Monday admitted that Chinese authorities had approached the government over the visit but denied that was the reason.

South Africa’s Premier Soccer League was organising the tournament.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela had signed the letter of invitation sent by Tutu and de Klerk to the Dalai Lama but had not been scheduled to attend, his foundation said.

His grandson Mandla Mandela, a traditional chief in Mandela’s home village of Mvezo in Eastern Cape province and also a member of the conference committee, accused the government of tarnishing the country’s reputation.

“This rejection by the government to not issue a visa, is really tainting our efforts at democracy,” he said.

“I don’t think that as sovereign democracy country, we need to succumb to international pressure.”

China is one of South Africa’s leading trade partners and one of the biggest investors on the continent, which supplies it with the oil and minerals it needs to fuel its growth.

Last week the billion-dollar China-Africa Development Fund opened its first Africa office in Johannesburg in the presence of presidential hopeful and ruling African National Congress party leader, Jacob Zuma.

The scandal comes on the 50th anniversary of a failed anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet, an autonomous Chinese region that the Chinese claims as part of its sovereign territory but which the Dalai Lama says was independent before being colonized by China.

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