New York — More than 1,000 religious leaders have been invited to attend a Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations next month, but the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader, was not asked, for fear of offending China.
"China would object vehemently to his presence here because they consider Tibet their territory and the Dalai Lama challenges that," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
The Dalai Lama, who was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, fled Tibet in 1959 with thousands of supporters after a failed revolt against Chinese rule of the mountain region.
Eckhard said an official who oversees U.N. relations with citizens groups "advised organizers there would be a political controversy should they invite the Dalai Lama to the United Nations."
Conference organizers this week did invite the Dalai Lama to attend the last two days of the conference, which are not being held at the United Nations, and asked him to give the closing address at a New York hotel.
The U.S. representative of the Dalai Lama said he has not yet responded to the invitation.
Some supporters of the Dalai Lama said it was too little, too late.
"It's not even as full an invitation as the one extended to the other invitees to the Summit -- and this to a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and to one of the most revered spiritual leaders on the planet," said Brahma Das, executive director of the Council for Interfaith Call for Universal Religious Freedom and Freedom of Worship in Tibet.
Another Nobel Peace laureate, Desmond Tutu, wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday, protesting the "totally bizarre and quite unbelievable" treatment of the Dalai Lama.
Tutu, Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, was invited to the meeting but was unable to attend. "Had I accepted," he added in his letter to Annan, "I would have withdrawn as a small protest against a very sad aberration."
The gathering, scheduled for Aug. 28-31, will bring together leaders of religious groups worldwide to discuss conflicts and initiate religiously based efforts to resolve them.