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Mandela Charity Withdraws Support for Fund-Raiser Because of Ties to Burma

A charity of South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has withdrawn its support for a fund-raising golf tournament, because of its host's involvement in Burma. The move was prompted by the Burmese military government's recent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund says it is ending its participation in the Nelson Mandela Invitational Golf Tournament, which was due to open later this month, hosted by South Africa's golfing legend, Gary Player.

A spokesman for the Fund, Oupa Ngwenya, said, as a result, the name of the former South African president could no longer be used by organizers of the golf event.

"The controversy surrounding Gary Player is not in the best interest of the tournament, or the good name of Mandela," said Ngwenya. "So, of prime concern to us is to protect Mandela, and the best way to do that is to step out of the tournament."

Ngwenya said the withdrawal was not a judgment of Gary Player.

The controversy erupted last month when Nobel Peace Laureate and anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu called on Gary Player to resign as tournament host because a company he owned had built a golf course in Pun Hlaing, Burma.

The call came during protests in Rangoon, led by Buddhist monks, in which hundreds of people were arrested and dozens were beaten. The government said 10 were killed, but dissidents say the death toll was much higher.

The protesters were calling for lower fuel prices, reconciliation talks between the military government and pro-democracy activists and for the release of all political prisoners.

Long-standing sanctions by Western governments against Burma were tightened as a response to the latest crackdown.

Burma has been under military rule virtually since independence, and the leader of its pro-democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi was detained most recently in May 2003, after an 18-month long period of freedom.

A statement by the Gary Player group said the golf course was built in 2002, during a political thaw when Aung San Suu Kyi had been released.

The statement concluded saying that Player condemned the recent crackdown in Burma and supported Desmond Tutu's efforts to bring peace there.

A spokesman for the tournament said it would go ahead as planned.

The tournament, which has brought together professionals, businessmen and celebrities, over the past seven years, has raised $3 million for charity. The proceeds were divided between the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Gary Player Foundation, which helps deprived children.