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Monks Welcome Assembly

Fearing that the "Voice of the People" might not be heard at the first

meeting of Cambodia's Constituent Assembly on Jun. 14, more than 500 Buddhist monks,

nuns, and representatives of the Cambodian NGO community converged peacefully on

Lenin Blvd. in an attempt to obtain observer status during the national lawmaking

body's opening session.

"Our purpose is to welcome the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly,"

said Sochua Leiper, one of the march organizers and executive director of Khmera.

"In doing so, we can help people learn more about politics, and not to give

everything to the politicians alone."

"We also want to present (the opinions) of different groups of people,"

she added. "The Assembly will draft laws for the whole nation and so the people

must explain their problems to the politicians so they can take them into consideration."

As the newly-elected lawmakers drove down Lenin Blvd to be dropped off in front of

the National Assembly building they passed a long line of monks and nuns bearing

banners with slogans such as "Solidarity is Power," "Cambodian Women

Support the New Constitution," and "Best Wishes To Our National Assembly."

Once the lawmakers had entered the Assembly, the marchers slowly converged on the

front gates of the building to present a request that they be granted observer status

during the meeting. The Venerable Maha Ghosananda, one of Cambodia's revered Buddhist

monks and the leader of the recent peace march from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, was

permitted to attend the inaugural session. But NGO workers were disappointed that

no one from their sector was allowed to enter.

"Our strategy is non-violence," said Leiper. "We want to tell the

politicians that we don't want anything else but peace, to tell them that the people

are fed up with war."

The monks led the crowd in several Buddhist chants while they waited under the hot

mid-morning sun. After the departure of HRH Prince Norodom Sihanouk the marchers

dispersed quietly without incident.

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