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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Peace walkers off to former war zone

Peace walkers off to former war zone

Peace walkers off to former war zone

WHAT would be unthinkable one year ago began in Battambang yesterday (Mar 20), as

the venerable Maha Ghosananda embarked on a 338km trek through some of the most hostile

terrain Cambodia has to offer.

The sixth annual peace march (Dhammayietra VI) cuts right through the heartland of

the breakaway KR strongholds of the northwest, braving mines, malaria and men with

guns.

The 27-day pilgrimage for peace and reconciliation in Cambodia will pass through

Pailin, Malai, Nimit, Sisophon and end on Khmer New Year at the Ankorian ruins of

Banteay Chhmar north of Thmar Pouk.

This year's march will be passing through hamlets, villages, and towns where many

inhabitants have known nothing but war.

"The Khmer Rouge were in the darkness before," says the venerated Cambodian

Buddhist. "Now they return to the light."

This year's walk will feature a prayer for peace and reconciliation set for March

26 in Pailin.

Ieng Sary, already given an amnesty, has asked that he be blessed at the ceremony

by one of Cambodia's Supreme Patriarchs. He has consistently denied any charges against

him.

"In Buddhism, when people know their crimes and they ask for pardon, then the

Buddha pardons them," Ghosananda says. "We do not know if [Ieng Sary] is

lying or not, but the Dhamma forgives people who return to the light and give up

fighting."

But to the organizers of Dhammayietra VI, any blessing of Ieng Sary is peripheral

to the change in thinking they aim to bring about.

In their view, there can be no long-lasting peace in Cambodia and no end to other

day-to-day realities nationwide - such as deforestation, domestic violence, the terror

of landmines, poverty and its attendant crime, the trafficking of women and children

- unless mind-sets of violence are broken.

"Recently, peace treaties have been signed and amnesties granted, bringing a

fragile appearance of peace," the organizers say. "But the wounds of war

- the deep mistrust, the lives and livelihoods lost, the homes destroyed - do not

heal so easily or quickly."

"The first steps towards trust and acceptance required for true reconciliation

have yet to be taken," they add. "Dhammayietra VI will take these steps,

bringing with it an understanding of the deep changes of heart required for genuine

reconciliation."

There will be no peace in Cambodia, maintains Kim Leng, a member of the Dhammayietra's

steering committee who drills marchers in the tactics and art of non-violence, unless

"we help ourselves and others have peaceful hearts, because hatred never ceases

hatred."

In order to do this, however, peace makers have to muster the courage to venture

into danger.

"We must be willing to walk into the old war zones and show a willingness to

be close to the suffering of people who live there."

Some marchers in the past have had their courage met with bullets with bloodshed.

In a failed bid to get to Pailin in 1994, the procession was caught in crossfire

between government and KR forces. A monk and a nun were killed.

The courage of the peace marchers, instead of being diminished by the tragedy, was

only strengthened by it.

"It brought everyone closer together and made us all think about what we were

marching for," recalls Kevin Malone, a veteran of that fateful campaign.

Along with several other Westerners, he was also briefly detained then by the Khmer

Rouge area commander.

"It was a powerful reminder about what these walks are about - to end this kind

of violence, to end this war, to have the courage to stand up and say 'no more'."

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