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Greeks Seek Modern Olympic Truce

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In ancient times, the warring Greeks would put down their weapons to attend the Olympic Games. It was the rule of law. Out of respect for the Greek gods, for whom the Olympic Games were really intended, Greek soldiers would compete against one another on the playing field, not the battle field.

Leaders today are trying to reinstate this idea for the 2004 Olympics, which will be in Greece. Stavros Lambrinidis, Greece's ambassador-at-large, is leading the way. He is campaigning for a 16-day Olympic truce, during which time no nation that sends athletes to the Olympics may attack another nation.

Other world leaders are signing on as well, including former South African President Nelson Mandela and Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. The inclusion of Cem in this campaign is especially important because Greece and Turkey are still fighting over boundaries on the island of Cyprus, long a hotbed of Greece-Turkey conflicts.

Something of the sort was hammered out for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, in Nagano, Japan. At that time, Iraq wouldn't let U.N. weapons inspectors into its country and the United States and the United Kingdom were ready to attack with warplanes. Largely through the efforts of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Iraq agreed to allow weapons inspections and the warplanes didn't attack. The truce lasted throughout the entire Winter Games.

Will it happen again? Who knows? Iraq is again at odds with the U.S. and the U.K., and the situation might very well carry over into 2004. It should also be pointed out that countries who wanted to continue fighting could always choose not to send athletes to the Olympics at all.

Lambrinidis estimates that the world has 40 major conflicts right now. If everyone involved stopped fighting for 16 days, maybe they would find a way to stop fighting for another 16 days and maybe 160 days and then stop fighting for good. It's a small step, Lambrinidis admits, but you have to start somewhere.

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Graphics courtesy of ArtToday

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