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Marchers show the spirit of '94

Marchers show the spirit of '94

I F any one single event of 1994 summed up what most people would like to remember about the year in Cambodia, and their hopes for the future, it was the Venerable  Samdech  Preah Maha Ghosananda's peace march or Dhammayietra to Pailin.

The country's spiritual leader - "the Buddha of the battlefield" - led hundreds of monks, nuns and lay people on a one-month march which mirrored what was to be a year of both hope and tragedy in Cambodia.

The Dhammayietra never made it to Pailin. It was re-routed by some of the fierciest fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the Royal army and a monk and a nun were killed by crossfire. But nevertheless it should have planted a seed of optimism in even the most cynical of minds.

Ghosananda, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize early in the year, seemed to reflect the qualities most needed in Cambodia.

After playing a key role in talks which culminated in the 1992 Paris peace accords and leading two earlier Dhammayietras in 1992 and 1993, he led a third into the teeth of battle.

"Sometimes we are in fear but later the fear is no longer with us. We have to walk and spread our message with compassion, loving kindness and respect for human rights of all Cambodians who are victims of war," he said.

Two thousand marchers, Buddhists, Catholics, Chams and others, set out from Battambang in April. Six hundred - three times more than expected - finished at Angkor Wat.

That it was held at all, and that two marchers lost their lives during it, reflected the good and the bad, the promise and the failure, that was Cambodia in 1994.

Peace did not come. Khmers on both sides, and innocent civilians, were killed. More had their lives wrecked: the maimed, the homeless and the grieved.

Six Westerners were among those killed, attracting woldwide publicity,  but,  as usual, it was mostly Khmer blood spilt.

The Khmer Rouge defeated the Royal army at Pailin and Anglong Veng but by year's end it was the rebels who looked to be weakening. The Thais, with Western persuasion, are tightening their border; security at least in the south seems improved and rebel defections are increasing.

The government faced an attempted coup (admittedly woefully planned), political sackings and continued allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. The rice crop lies in ruins after first floods, then drought.

But despite the bodyblows, 1994 saw the survival and strengthening of the coalition, which appears as stable as ever before. The National Assembly set out on the long path to becoming a true debating chamber, the economy stabilized and investment increased.

Turning the improving economic statistics into more money for the farmers, cyclo-drivers, soldiers and others is a priority. Obtaining all the Khmer Rouge gem and log profits would help.

The improvement of living standards, as well as the achievement of peace - and Ghosananda intends another Dhammayietra next year - will be the toughest jobs of 1995.

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