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Nobel laureates to boycott South Africa summit

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dalai lamaComing out in support of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who was denied a travel visa by South Africa, four women Nobel Peace laureates have refused to attend the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town next month.

Three of them – Jody Williams of the US, Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia – are now travelling to this northern Indian hill town to grace Dalai Lama’s Nobel silver jubilee anniversary celebrations Oct 2.

The trio, and a representative of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), are pulling the plug on their scheduled trip to South Africa to attend the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, being held Oct 13-15, said a Nobel Women’s Initiative statement.

“The Dalai Lama advocates a non-violent, negotiated solution to the Tibet problem — what he calls ‘the middle-way approach’ — and is calling for real autonomy for Tibet under Chinese sovereignty,” it said.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative is led by Nobel Peace laureates Williams, Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman and Mairead Maguire.

It said the decision to cancel the scheduled trip “follows South Africa’s refusal to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama for the Nobel peace laureates in Cape Town, and China’s public declaration of thanks for South Africa’s decision to block the spiritual leader from entering South Africa”.

Tenzin Taklha, joint secretary at the Dalai Lama’s office here, told IANS that the programme, being organised by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) here Oct 2, would be attended by Nobel laureates Williams, Ebadi and Gbowee.

This was the third time in five years that the Dalai Lama called off his visits to South Africa, said aides of the Dalai Lama.

Fourteen Nobel Peace laureates last week urged the South African President Jacob Zuma to allow the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa, causing a public outcry.

In the letter to Zuma, the laureates said they were “deeply concerned about the damage that will be done to South Africa’s international image by a refusal or failure to grant him a visa yet again”.

Signatories on the letter reportedly included Poland’s Lech Walesa, Bangladeshi entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, Ebadi, Gbowee and Northern Irish peacemakers David Trimble and John Hume.

Earlier this month, South Africa requested the Dalai Lama to defer his visit for this year only.

“We had a meeting with officials of the South African High Commission and foreign ministry here (in Delhi) and they requested his holiness to defer his visit to their country for this year only,” Tempa Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s representative in New Delhi, told IANS.

“We call for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates to be relocated to a more appropriate venue because the world needs this summit and no authoritarian government should be allowed to control it by censoring which voices gets heard,” Tibetan National Congress president Jigme Ugen said.

The Tibetan National Congress (TNC), an independent political party, has launched a campaign urging the Nobel laureates to either boycott or relocate the summit to a venue more compatible with the Nobel Peace Prize’s ideals of open and inclusive dialogue.

In October 2011 too, the globetrotting monk had called off his South Africa visit. At that time he was invited by fellow Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his 80th birthday.

The South African anti-apartheid icon later travelled to this town in 2012 to meet his long-time Tibetan spiritual leader friend.

“I want to say to the Chinese government that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the most peace-loving person on this earth. I want to say to the Chinese government that the Dalai Lama has no army, he cannot command his people with guns, he’s not a separatist,” Tutu said at a public ceremony on his visit here.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since he fled Tibet during a failed uprising in 1959. He favours “greater autonomy” for Tibetans rather than complete independence.

Chinese leaders have, however, called him a separatist who wants Tibet to secede from China.