From its Headquarters to farflung trenches of war UN marks International Peace

In New York Secretary-General Kofi Annan rang the Peace Bell, on the seared fields of conflict in Somalia appeals rang out to end the violence and in Afghanistan children flew the once forbidden kites of hope as the United Nations system today marked the annual International Day of Peace from its stately Headquarters building to the furthest flung trenches of warfare. In southern Lebanon, latest focus of UN efforts to restore peace after the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbollah which ended last month, blue-helmeted peacekeepers marched past at their Naqoura base camp overlooking the Israeli border to honour the Day that was established by the UN General Assembly 25 years ago.And in Iraq the top UN official appealed for national unity to promote peace at a time when the war-torn country is confronting the most difficult period of its history. “For some of us, peace is a day-to-day reality,” Mr. Annan declared as he stood in front of the bell, a gift from Japan cast from the pennies donated by children from 60 nations, before driving the ringing beam into it three times,” the last time he will do so as he steps down from his office at the end of the year.“Our streets are safe; our children go to school. Where the fabric of society is strong, the precious gifts of peace can almost go unremarked. But for far too many people in the world today, those gifts are only an elusive dream. They live in chains: a climate of insecurity and fear. It is mainly for them that this day exists.”He noted that the last few weeks had seen “tragic new escalations of conflict in several parts of the world” and stressed the many ways the UN works for peace from preventive diplomacy to peacekeeping missions and efforts to support democracy and promote human rights. Participants at the ceremony and UN staff throughput the world observed a minute of silence in the name of peace, and a choir sang an anthem of peace. The flags of the world’s nations were paraded in the balmy autumn air on the front lawn in front of the Headquarters building.Four UN Messengers of Peace stood at Mr. Annan’s side – author and journalist Anna Cataldi, Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas, wildlife researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall and tennis champion and actor Vijay Armitraj. And Mr. Annan formally appointed a new messenger, world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who performed for the gathering. But it was in the deserts and mountains of far off flashpoints of conflict around the world, where UN peacekeepers, assistance missions and humanitarian teams are toiling to rein in the dogs of war, that today’s solemn ceremonies assumed their real significance. In Iraq, Mr. Annan’s Special Representative Ashraf Qazi noted that this year’s observance was of particular relevance when the country and its people are going through a most difficult and challenging period in their history. In a message to the Iraqi people he called on all to join hands in promoting peace and pledged continued active UN engagement.In Somalia, Special Representative Francois Lonseny Fall highlighted two “particularly violent events this week [that] have pushed peace deeper into the shadows,” the murder of an Italian nun who had served the needs of children in Mogadishu and the assassination attempt on President Abdullahi Yusuf in Baidoa. “I wish I could paint a bright picture for Somalia today, but there are too many clouds, too many uncertainties on the horizon. And there are far too many competing interests that have too little to do with the profound humanitarian needs of the civilian population and the development of the country,” he said in a message, pledging continued UN assistance in fighting disease and providing food. On a brighter note of hope at a ceremony organized by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which is suffering from an upsurge in violence, over 50 orphans gathered on Nader Khan hill, overlooking the capital Kabul, where they were presented with white kites, each bearing a dove and an olive branch, the symbols of peace. Kite flying was banned by the ousted Taliban regime. In Naqoura, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, head of the newly enhanced UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and several guests released two white doves and two dozen helium filled blue balloons to symbolize peace. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kosovo and Liberia, UN mission staff discussed via satellite issues of peace with more than 700 students gathered with the Messengers of Peace at UN Headquarters in New York, where General Assembly President Sheika Haya Rashed Al Khalifa told a gathering of children they should be messengers of peace, solidarity and respect for all human beings.And it was not only in conflict-riven areas that the Day was marked. At UN headquarters in Vienna 200 children from 70 schools studying at local and international schools were receiving awards in a “Writing and Painting for Peace” competition.In Bangkok, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) held a ceremony with the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace. And half way round the world in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) issued a new manual on how to create a successful action plan for the equal representation of women in all peace and security initiatives.

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