Thursday, March 10, 2005

Ex-World Leaders Urge UN to Define Terror

Associated Press - Former world leaders appealed to the United Nations on Thursday to come up with a definition of terrorism, arguing that political aims should never be used as an excuse to kill innocent civilians.

The issue of a definition has long been one of the most delicate, in part because governments often use violence to accomplish goals. But delegates to a four-day conference here on terrorism suggested that drawing up a simple concept with international consensus would be the first step in averting more attacks.

"There is no cause under the sun that could justify the deliberate killing of civilians," said Anand Panyarachun, former prime minister of Thailand. "The killing of civilians is unjustified under any circumstance."

The United Nations has long struggled with this issue, lacking agreement on just what constitutes terrorism. Some states want one to exempt "freedom fighters," while others insist any definition must cover governments and their soldiers.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict typifies the dilemma in coming up with a definition. The Palestinians have argued, for example, they are justified in resisting Israel's military occupation by using suicide bombs against civilians while the Israelis say such tactics are unacceptable.

However, delegates insist that having a common understanding on what terrorism is would permit the United Nations and other world bodies to fight it jointly and help create laws that would allow for prosecution of the perpetrators.

During a panel debate, Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, did not argue against creating a definition, as long as the United Nations was involved. But he stressed that counterterrorism efforts should focus more on the causes of extremist violence.

"The issue is not that simple," he said.

The discussion came only hours before U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was set to deliver a key policy speech before dozens of terrorism experts and former world leaders.

Annan's address is expected to be the highlight of the session, which was timed to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Madrid train bombings. The attack, believed to have been carried out by Islamic extremists, killed 191 people and injured more than 1,500.

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