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Council Formed to Aid UN Efforts at Reducing Conflict

In Thailand, more than 100 religious leaders from the world's major faiths have formed a global council to help the United Nations reduce conflict and promote peaceful co-existence. The World Council of Religious Leaders was formed during a three-day meeting.

Organizers of the Bangkok conference have said conflicts among religious and spiritual groups are avoidable and religion can serve as a positive force for resolving them. Friday, they unveiled the charter of the World Council of Religious Leaders.

The council will be an independent body that will support the United Nations and other organizations dedicated to promoting peace, tolerance and social and economic justice.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, one of the co-chairs of the council, said the charter seeks to unite religious leaders who believe in dialogue and co-existence. "We have to have a sharp line of divide between those religious leaders who have the vision and the commitment and the foresight to stand for togetherness, for peace, and those who seek to divide us," he said. The meeting in Thailand follows the millennium summit of religious leaders held two years ago at the United Nations. The summit was called amid growing concern that religious extremism is leading to violence and intolerance in many parts of the world.

The secretary-general of the council, Bawa Jain, said the leaders gathered in Thailand, who come from Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and many other faiths, plan a series of initiatives.

He said a first step is to press political leaders to preserve religious sites, no matter what religion they belong to. Another is to help political leaders peacefully resolve conflicts such as those in the Middle East and South and Central Asia. Other projects are to work for the elimination of terrorism and nuclear weapons.

Mr. Jain said religious leaders must work more closely with political leaders. "There is enormous influence (that) religious leaders do have. How we can mobilize that, to work together as a multi-religious perspective, working closely with political leaders and (other) religious leaders? That's something that we seek to develop as we move forward," he said.

Many of the religious leaders say the September 11 attacks in the United States were a warning to humankind. And to address it, a positive religious force is needed to press for peaceful co-existence and social justice.