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World Leaders Sign Call for Olympic Truce - 2004-08-14

Several world leaders attending the Olympic Games in Athens have subscribed to the idea of reviving the ancient Olympic tradition of declaring a truce for the duration of the Games. The aim is to create a window of opportunity for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

In ancient Greece, hostilities would cease every four years, from seven days before until seven days after the Olympic Games. That allowed athletes, artists and spectators to travel to Olympia, the site of the Games, participate in the contests or festivities, and return to their homelands.

For the past 12 years, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been trying to revive the idea, and has enlisted the sponsorship of the United Nations, which has on seven different occasions, called on member states to observe the Olympic truce.

In 1994, a truce of sorts that allowed athletes from the war-torn former Yugoslavia to attend the Winter Games in Norway took effect for the duration of the event.

The IOC cites the example of North and South Korea marching together under the same flag at both the 2000 Sydney Olympics and, again, in Athens on Friday, as another example of how the Games can inspire a reconciliation, however brief, between longtime enemies.

Nearly two dozen leaders attending the Athens Games, among them British Prime Minister Tony Blair, pledged support Saturday for the truce idea, but only as individuals, not as representatives of their countries.

Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, another signatory to the document, says he thinks it is important to work for peace, but that real problems, like terrorism and human rights violations, sometimes get in the way of such efforts, and must be dealt with forcefully.

"It's necessary, not only to appeal, it's necessary to act, as well," he said. "And, I think that [in] some places in the world, we have to act, we have to fight, because, without such engagement, it's impossible to solve the problems. If you see Africa, if you see Rwanda, if you see Sudan now, you see how necessary is being involved, and not only to observe and, then, to react after everything."

The international community was harshly criticized by non-government organizations and human rights groups in 1994 for standing by while more than 800,000 people died in 100 days of ethnically motivated massacres in Rwanda. The United Nations says the Darfur region of Sudan has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and that as many as 50,000 people have been killed by fighting and war-related disease and starvation.

Asked how his country's participation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq can be reconciled with his support for the truce initiative, Mr. Kwasniewski says Poland's involvement there, is aimed at helping to pacify and stabilize Iraq.