Meeting of Nobel Winners Shows Sharply Different Treatment for Two Absent Laureates

Nobel Peace Prize winners met this week in South Korea to discuss prospects for global peace. Two high-profile laureates were conspicuously absent - and their respective inability to attend was treated very differently by those who did make it to the meeting.

As a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners took the stage for the final event of a meeting here in Gwangju Saturday, two well-known laureates were nowhere to be seen.

The first was pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, of Burma. She has been placed under prolonged house arrest by Rangoon's authoritarian military leaders, and was not allowed to travel to the meeting.

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the host of the gathering, personally acknowledged her absence in his closing remarks.

Mr. Kim called for Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom, and expressed the hope that more global attention would be called to her plight.

The gathering went even further in acknowledging the Burmese activist, by drafting a formal declaration of solidarity with her. It was read aloud by Jonathan Granoff, of the Nobel-winning International Peace Bureau.

"The political and physical freedom of our colleague, Madame Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, must be guaranteed. We stand alongside Madame Aung San Suu Kyi, who is struggling for the development of democracy in her homeland."

The second of the two missing laureates was just ignored, even though he was invited to the event and his name appeared in the program. He is the Dalai Lama of Tibet, the spiritual leader of the Buddhist nation forcibly annexed by China in the 1950s.

Countries, human rights groups and individuals have long criticized Beijing's occupation of Tibet, accusing it of eradicating much the region's traditional culture. China claims Tibet is a traditional part of Chinese territory, and it regularly blasts the Dalai Lama as a separatist troublemaker, even though he no longer calls for Tibetan independence, and now only asks for greater autonomy.

Beijing complains whenever the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, is granted entry to other countries. South Korean authorities refused to issue him a visa for the Nobel gathering in order to avoid offending China.

At Saturday's events ending the four-day Gwangju summit, the Dalai Lama's name was not mentioned once. The Nobel laureates, such as Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Corrigan Maguire, were less than eager to share an opinion on his absence.

"Well I think you should speak to some of the organizers, really. I would prefer you would on that."

Kenyan Peace Laureate Wangari Mutha Maatai cited lack of information in declining to discuss the issue.

"I should not really make any judgment on why he didn't come. Because when I asked, I was told that he didn't come because he didn't have a visa. But I wasn't told any other issue other than that."

The Gwangju meeting was carefully choreographed to support host Kim Dae-jung's vision of regional peace, which is shared by the South Korean government. Its central tenet is engagement and cooperation with North Korea - in which China, the North's neighbor and ally, plays a key role. It is an indication of China's growing influence that a guest that Beijing finds inconvenient was not only absent - but largely ignored.