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A Hill-top Prayer for Peace

A Hill-top Prayer for Peace

Fearing the country's future was being imperiled by power-loving politicians, thousands

of Cambodians joined together on June 4 to pray for those politicians to hear their

plea for peace.

Early in the morning, nicely dressed men and women worshippers together with monks

and nuns gathered on Wat Phnom (Hill Temple) to celebrate the Peace Festival at the

initiative of the Venerable Maha Ghosananda who led a 350- kilometer peace walk from

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh last month.

The celebration coincided with Prince Sihanouk's declaration that he would head a

National Government of Cambodia (NGC), raising the hopes of many that a lasting peace

had finally come to this war-torn country.

"I don't know where my parents died. I want peace and I hope for peace,"

said 17-year-old Bunn Thoeun, who was among the many young worshippers on the hill.

At the age of 15 he enlisted in the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF)

army, but was discharged after he lost a leg as the result of an attack. He returned

from the Site-2 refugee camp on the Thai border earlier this year, and was taken

to Krousar Thmey-an NGO which takes care of homeless children.

San Sok Chea, 25, is a former member of the Cambodian People's Armed Forces (CPAF).

He also lost his right leg when it was hit by a shrapnel during fighting against

the Khmer Rouge near Pailin.

"You see, we were the first target of the disaster," Sok Chea said as he

gasped for air at the top of the stairs leading to the hilltop temple. Behind him,

his friends were pushing a wheelchair-bound colleague up a steep incline towards

the crowd.

"You don't know how strongly I hate war. How much disgust I feel," he said.

"We need peace in order to build our skills, future and a better life like everybody

else has."

The hill looked very colorful and cheerful. The participants brought along fruit

and ready-cooked meals to offer to monks at the end of the ceremony. Their faces

looked hopeful as they quietly sat listening carefully to Buddhist scriptures being

read by Maha Ghosananda.

"Peace is the worthiest gem which keeps lighting in our hearts," he told

them at one point.

As they prayed, one could hear only one word: 'peace'.

The evening before the festival, people seemed to be relaxed and happy after government-run

radio and television broadcast Prince Sihanouk's statement about the formation of

the so-called NGC, which would join together FUNCINPEC and the Cambodian People's

Party.

"We heard that they, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen, reached this consensus and

we are convinced that peace can prevail from now on," said a group of girls

who are students from different institutes in Phnom Penh.

"I believe that peace is born from this moment," said 55-year-old Keo Saroeun.

Sek Chantry, a middle-aged woman, said that she was very happy when she learned that

all parties were reunited. "Now the country is at peace. That's what I want."

They had pinned their hopes on Prince Sihanouk. But within 18 hours their dreams

had turned to disillusionment. The plan faltered because Sihanouk's son Ranariddh,

whose FUNCINPEC Party won the election, refused to work on an equal footing with

his enemies. Sihanouk was miffed by diplomats' and UNTAC officials' accusations that

he had staged a constitutional coup and abandoned the plan.

And those desperate dreams and prayers offered on the hill evaporated in thin air.

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