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Killings fail to halt peace marchers

Killings fail to halt peace marchers

SOME 550 monks, nuns and lay people were pressing ahead with the Dhammayietra

despite the killings of two and the wounding of four when the marchers were

caught in crossfire between Khmer Rouge and government troops.

The march,

now rerouted away from Pailin, was 68 km north of Battambang just off Route 5 en

route to Sisophon on May 2.

One of 12 foreigners on the march described

what happened during the firefight on April 30.

"The front line changed

overnight," said American Kevin Maloney, who was among those detained for four

hours by the Khmer Rouge during the shootout.

"The day before 50

soldiers had walked down that path with no problem."

"As the firing

started," Maloney continued, "Both the Khmer Rouge and the government troops

were shouting at the monks to get down and get out of the way."

Six days

earlier, around 2,000 Dhammayietra peace walkers had filed through the gates of

Battambang's Wat Bo Vel and started up Route 10. Organizers had expected a large

initial turnout and that 200 marchers would complete the entire walk, but more

than 600 had registered their intention to finish the journey. "People keep

coming to join us from all over because they want peace," said the Venerable Yos

Hut.

With Supreme Patriarch and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Maha Ghosananda

and Yos Hut leading the column, the people of Battambang lined the streets

waiting to be blessed. Elder monks followed the two leaders, trailed by the

younger priests and white-robed achars.

Nuns followed next, some running

and laughing, struggling to keep up with the pace of the march, and were trailed

by civilians, including children.

The youngest registered walker was 13,

the oldest 82. Chams, Bhuddists and Catholics walked together.

Foreigners had come from the United States, Australia, India, England,

Thailand and Japan to join. Young monks hid from the sun under red and white

umbrellas bearing cigarette logos as they walked. Everyone, including the many

elderly and disabled walkers, bore satchels carrying mosquito nets, hammocks and

water.

By fax and phone, the group's steering committee had tried to

contact the Khmer Rouge to discuss safe passage for the marchers. Their attempts

had met with silence, but they continued to be optimistic. "We are all sure

about being abel to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge for safe passage", said

steering committee member Sochua Leiper. "We won't be shot at."

After the

Khmer Rouge recaptured Pailin on April 19, fighting had continued along Route

10. The walk's original route was to have taken them along the secondary road

which the Cambodian government had cut through the juggle several months earlier

to circumvent the mines laid along Route 10 as it stretched to Pailin. But the

secondary road, too, had been mined. "I'm not afraid of the Khmer Rouge, but I

am afraid of mines," admitted Liz Bernstein, who was also starting her third

walk with Maha Gosananda.

The walkers had been concerned that the march

would be stopped for logistical reasons rather than military ones. "Because of

the mines along the road we can't dig latrines, or make rest stops along the

road," said Leiper, who also worried that support vehicles would not be able to

follow.

"We had to change our path when we reached kilo 38," said

Maloney. Kilo 38 marked the start of the government military zone, and fierce

fighting had broken out as the Khmer Rouge attempted to breach the government

lines when the walkers arrived on March 27th.

After several nights at Wat

Andough, at the foot of Turtle Mountain, the walkers took an alternative path

which led them to the reservoir at Kompong Puey. Unknown to the marchers as they

started out on the morning of April 30 the government had lost ground to the

Khmer Rouge.

"The government troops were asked not to go out front but

they did," said Chena Veasna, a young monk from Phnom Penh. "The Khmer Rouge

opened fire first. The monks asked the military not to answer back by

fighting."

While both the Khmer Rouge and the government soldiers shouted

at the monks to get down and the monks plead with the soldiers not to fight, the

walkers tried to take cover.

"They came from everywhere," said Ley Kuhn

Tuhn. "When it happened we ran into the forest."

One monk was carrying a

military knapsack," said Nuth Sophea, a monk from Prey Veng. "He lay down and

hid behind the knapsack. The Khmer Rouge thought he was a soldier and shot him.

Some of the other monks stood up and started shouting 'Don't shoot, don't shoot,

he's a monk!' "

Maloney said: "At one point people took up and started to

run, and that's when most of the injuries occurred."

During the fighting

the Venerable Suy Sonn from O'Mai village in Battambang and Voeung, a

55-year-old nun from Mong Russey, were killed and four other monks seriously

wounded.

"After the fighting the Khmer Rouge stole a lot from the

civilians but they left the monks and the nuns alone," said Chesna Veasna. "They

even took mosquito nets and umbrellas."

The Khmer Rouge also took hostage

six of the foreign marchers and three Cambodians, all of whom had been in the

van.

"After they went through the bags they asked us to walk into the

forest with them. What could you say? said Bernstein. "They kept asking 'are you

afraid?'

"Since they were taking us through what I'd been told was a

heavily-mined jungle I said the only thing I'm afraid of is

mines."

Maloney, also captured said: "They were young soldiers. I don't

think they knew what they had and were a little nervous."

When they at

first thought a Thai marcher was Chinese, some of the young Khmer Rouge soldiers

treated him roughly. "But when they found out he was Thai, they apologized,"

said one of the group. "They said Thailand was their only friend."

After

walking 3 or 4 km, the captured Dhammayeitra supporters met a second group of

Khmer Rouge which included the Khmer Rouge group's leader.

"We talked for

about an hour or an hour and a half," said Berstein. "He asked who we were, what

the walk was about, where we were from and what we were doing in

Cambodia."

"He told us that he wanted foreigners in Cambodia to be

neutral and non-partisan and also to understand that all Cambodians, including

the Khmer Rouge, want peace. He said they were sorry the monk and nun had been

killed.

"We were treated well and given water. At one point they said

they might take us to the border, or Pailin. Then they took one of us aside and

said he could lead us down the path to the group."

When the released

walkers returned they found that villagers had brought oxcarts out to take the

wounded to Bavel hospital. From Bavel, the seriously wounded were taken by

ambulance to Battambang hospital.

The march rested for the night at Wat

Sanke Vea near Bavel. In the morning, a memorial service was held the two

dead.

"We will continue despite the incident," said the Venerable Yos

Hut. "It was regrettable but it's also the reason to continue, to diffuse war

with loving peace and compassion so we may achieve peace and

reconciliation."

At two in the afternoon on May 1, the day after the

attack, the marchers left to continue to Lovea.

Since the shooting more

monks, nuns and lay people had joined the march, almost doubling the group's

size. Tired and sunburnt, some of the elderly had dropped out or rode in a

support vehicle. Maha Gosananda was now following the march in a dented Nissan

sedan, straining through a side window to dip a lotus stem into the buckets of

water the faithful held up to his car. Waving the lotus and showering the

onlookers with water, he blessed the crowd lining the roadside as the march left

the Bavel Wat.

"It's really changed the march," said Maloney. "Everyone

is more determined than ever to complete what Maha Gosananda has started."

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