Yesterday, for the first time, all the armed combatants in the world were supposed to stop fighting for 24 hours. They paid little heed.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, had called on "all nations and all people to cease all hostilities for the entire day". This, he said, would give relief workers a safe interlude, offer mediators a building block towards a wider truce and "allow all those engaged in conflict to reconsider the wisdom of further violence". As reports on these pages show, however, wars and rumours of war were rife around the globe yesterday.
Iraq and the West exchanged harsh words; Israeli tanks were threatening Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah after a six-week lull in suicide bombings was shattered; a government counterattack was awaited in Ivory Coast as a military rebellion spread; and in Somalia, where the transitional national government had declared its support for "International Peace Day", a shootout between clan militias killed two people in a market in Mogadishu, the capital.
A search for the word "peace" in news agency reports yesterday uncovered only one which could be described as hopeful: Burundi's government and a rebel movement held talks with a South African mediator ahead of direct ceasefire negotiations. The rest of the search results concerned conflicts – in Northern Ireland, where the peace process is under strain; between the Israelis and the Palestinians; in Kosovo, where UN police turned back a mass march of Serbs seeking to return to the homes from which they had been expelled by Albanians; and in the former Soviet Union, where Russia has threatened military action against Georgia for allegedly sheltering Chechen rebels and international terrorists.
International Peace Day is the brainchild of Jeremy Gilley, a London-based actor turned film-maker, who launched his movement, Peace One Day, three years ago. Last year the UN General Assembly voted unanimously for 21 September to be declared an annual ceasefire day, but the campaign got off to the worst of starts: its grand launch at UN headquarters in New York, on 11 September 2001, had to be cancelled after hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in Washington.
Mr Gilley pressed on, and said last week that Peace One Day had obtained commitments from people in 57 countries, including 22 govern- ments, to observe peace day yesterday. "I don't know what will happen," he went on. "This is just the beginning ... Who knows when conflicts will actually start being suspended? The point is that we have to start somewhere."
At the most conservative estimate, there are at least 22 significant wars in the world today, as many again where there are fragile ceasefires and too many active terrorist campaigns to count.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies