P OIPET, BATTAMBANG - War stopped for a few minutes as soldiers laid down their
weapons and knelt in prayer.
Children laughed, old women cried with joy
and hundreds of villagers spontaneously left their work to join the fourth
Dhammayietra, a pilgrimage of peace through war-ravaged Cambodia.
very, very happy because I think peace will come to my
country. I really hope
the monks will bring peace," said 50-year-old Khlin Pong, a mother of six
"I would like to walk all the way with you to Vietnam, but I'm
too weak," she said, smiling and laughing with her family after being blessed
with holy water by the monks.
Mong Samon, 47, a mother of seven, said it
was the first time she had seen the Dhammayietra passing her simple hut.
Watching the 100m long procession, she said she now dared again to think about a
"It gives me hope that peace will come, I am very
happy, the walk helps bring peace to my country," Samon said. "We've never had
peace here until today."
In the early hours of the new day, hours before
sunrise over the paddy fields, the march set off amid the sound of "Na Mu Myo Ho
Ren Ge Kyo", a phrase of a Buddhist verse.
The march crossed through
heavily-mined areas; under blistering sun in temperatures of more than 45
degrees; and even in tropical monsoon downpours. Thousands lined the roads from
3am and even earlier, waiting for hours with buckets of water decorated with
flowers and burning incense, which monks would douse in the water as a symbol
for ending the flames of war.
Soldiers from every army base and check
point on Route Five welcomed the marchers.
They laid down their weapons,
knelt in prayer and waited in deep thought to be sprinkled with holy water,
offering small gifts of food and water to the marchers.
want to have peace as much as the people in the Dhammayietra - I have friends
who are at the front-line, they are very happy to hear about the peace march.
They don't want the war either," said soldier Var Veng, 38, who was guarding a
"I'm very happy for the peace march to come. All of us soldiers
are very happy, it's the first time we have seen the Dhammayietra," said Veng,
who was plainly moved by the event.
Regiment 86 captain Seang Hach, 31,
happened to come back from a front-line position south of Battambang for
supplies when he heard about the Dhammayietra. He and his men decided to welcome
the marchers and were thrilled to be blessed with holy water.
came back from Treng. We want to welcome the international peace walk in our
country," he said. "We are very happy that maybe we can soon have peace in all
of Cambodia. Soldiers and civilians are the same, we all want
March organizer, the Venerable Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda
said: "The soldiers pray with us. Some of the soldiers are very good soldiers,
they pray that their bullets will not kill the Khmer Rouge because they are
The march began in Auschwitz, Poland in mid-December and
will end in Hiroshima, Japan in August. More than 500 Buddhist monks and nuns,
and 50 foreigners, began the 600km Cambodian leg of the international walk from
Poipet to Vietnam on May 8 as scheduled, despite increasing rebel attacks in the
However, the march began with a sombre, almost ominous start.
The first sounds were those of artillery shells booming across the countryside.
Poipet had been shelled several times in the weeks leading up to the
start of the march, leaving 15 dead and more than 30 wounded. During the 24
hours the marchers were in town, it was quiet.
But on the evening of May
8, after one day's walking, reports reached the temple in Nimit where the
Dhammayietra was staying that Poipet had been shelled again.
a man came to the temple to pray. In his arms was the body of his eight-year-old
son; the boy had died from shrapnel injuries on the way to hospital.
appeal to both sides to please stop fighting, for the good of everybody," said
"The shellings I heard... I felt nervous about it, I felt
fear, and then 20 minutes later I was asleep. Life goes on, people didn't seem
to bother so much about it, it's part of daily life," said Pol D'Huyvetter, 33,
Though having been born blind, Robert Deyoung, 37, has
followed the march since Auschwitz. A psychologist in Chicago, Deyoung has
worked with war-veterans and victims of torture.
As with all the
international marchers, he was amazed and impressed by the thousands of people
showing their support for the march and the yearning for peace.
particular when I walk close to the people and can hear them laughing or crying
and hearing their response to the water blessings... that touches me," he
"I pay a lot of attention to the sounds around me: the people, the
landscapes, the traffic and certainly the terrain at my feet."
Deyoung noticed as different from other countries on the march included "a lot
more children, especially infants and babies" and "a lot of laughter". He said
he felt determination when aware that he was walking with
"Hearing the mortars in the distance certainly makes me aware
that we are in a war zone. The areas here are a lot more rural. These people are
really suffering a lot and are looking for joy and some way out. I really like
the people here, it amazes me that a simple walk can draw so much attention. It
is so important."
When the peace march arrived in Battambang city on May
12, after about 120 km, the pilgrims were greeted by more than 10,000 people.
Thousands more had greeted them all the way in to Cambodia's second
The marchers were stunned.
"I'm really amazed and moved by
that, lining the roads for hours and in the rain - it's really incredible to see
them so patiently waiting for a statement of hope and non-violence," said one
"It leaves me speechless, I can feel the very strong
energy which makes them do it. I'm totally startled and touched by the people
here, how they put their heart into it," said Marianne Kurschner, 42, from
Pol D'Huyvetter, who has been involved with the peace movement
for 14 years, said it was one of the strongest peace marches he had ever
"This is a very powerful peace march, powerful in the way of
bringing out masses of people and getting their support."
"This walk is a
sign of hope that Cambodia can live without war. Here there is a massive
response to it and that makes it really powerful, which I see as a big
difference from other marches," D'Huyvetter said.
A 78-year-old nun from
Pursat province, who has walked all the three previous Dhammayietras, said: "I
want to go all the way to Vietnam, but maybe I'm too weak," but she kept on
Ghosananda, who at the age of 71 still leads the march for
around two hours every day, said that no matter how difficult it is for the
Cambodian people, the only way to find peace is to love the Khmer
"According to Buddhism hatred will only cease with loving
kindness. They (Cambodians) want peace and happiness - we tell them about loving
kindness, we have to love even the Khmer Rouge," he said.
Last year when
a monk and a nun were killed in a crossfire "we continued, that is our duty, we
will walk every year until there is peace," Ghosananda said.
everywhere to stop fighting. Many people have their family in the Khmer Rouge
zones, their own blood, we tell the people to tell the Khmer Rouge to stop
fighting because we march for peace," he said.
"It gives a bit of hope,
and makes the villagers feel a little better. They really want peace and we can
give them some encouragement," said Margot Grant, a 66-year-old veteran of the
earlier peace marches across Cambodia.
"Peace walks have become a
national symbol for the Cambodian people," said Bob Maat, of the Coalition for
Peace and Reconciliation [CPR].
Liz Bernstein, also of the CPR, was among
the six foreigners who after last year's shooting incident were kept as
temporary hostages by the Khmer Rouge, but she still believes that the most
important thing is for villagers to keep their hopes alive. "Everyday, what else
do they see but tanks and soldiers going down the road. It's their whole life,
fleeing from bullets, but there is a hope that there are some people are still
trying to do something," she said.
"Pol Pot showed that you can destroy
everything, all symobols, but you can't take it out of the hearts," Maat