Sep 16, 7:50 AM EDT

Nobel peace laureates appeal to South Africa to give visa to Dalai Lama for Cape Town meeting

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- A group of Nobel peace laureates has appealed to South Africa to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama, who abandoned an attempt to get permission to travel to Cape Town next month.

The Tibetan spiritual leader withdrew his application for a South African visa after being told he would not get it, the 14 Nobel laureates said in a statement Monday.

South Africa has close business ties with China, and has previously denied entry to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama wants increased autonomy for Tibet, the homeland from which he has been exiled since 1959. China says he is a separatist.

"We are 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," the Nobel laureates said in their statement.

The group included East Timor independence leader Carlos Belo; Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity movement leader from Poland; and American Jody Williams, a peace activist who was recognized for her work to ban landmines.

The South African government said Sept. 4 that the Dalai Lama canceled his planned visit while the South African High Commission in New Delhi was still processing his visa application. The matter is closed, the government said.

The Tibetan leader won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Nobel peace laureates are holding an annual meeting in Cape Town Oct. 13-15.

The meeting will honor Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader and South African president who welcomed the Dalai Lama to South Africa in 1996. Mandela died last year.

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