The government of South Africa has refused the Dalai Lama permission to enter the country to attend a peace conference in Johannesburg, due to begin Friday.


The Dalai Lama, seen here during a visit to Seattle last April, has been barred from visiting South Africa this week. ((Ted S. Warren/Associated Press))

The Tibetan spiritual leader was to join fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates at the event, organized by top soccer officials, but has been turned down for an entry visa.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said Monday no visa was granted because the invitation did not come from official government channels.  

Critics of the decision allege the government bowed to pressure from China, one of South Africa's largest trading partners — a charge Mamoepa denies.

"What is critical to know is we are an independent sovereign country which makes independent sovereign decisions," he told Agence France Presse.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of being a Tibetan separatist, although he contends he just wants more autonomy for the region.

Former South African presidents Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk and former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, all South African Nobel Peace Prize winners, are to attend the conference.

South Africa's Sunday Independent newspaper said Tutu and de Klerk may now reconsider their participation.

The organizers have support from the Nobel Committee and plan for Nobel laureates and others to discuss issues ranging from anti-racism to sport as a way to bring peoples together.