His shaven head glistening with sweat as he squinted under the shade of a placard, Chum Sophal had been walking for seven hours by the time he reached the Royal Palace Friday afternoon. But he said he didn’t mind.
“The sun I can take, but the heat of the war I cannot,” the 37-year-old monk said.
It is because he does not want to see war again, he said, that he left his wat for the day to march with the revered Buddhist leader Maha Ghosananda.
As political parties held rallies and marches in their final push for support Friday, more than 2,500 monks as well as nuns and others held a march of their own. They had no candidate. Their only platform was peace.
A stunning spectacle in their saffron and white robes, the monks and nuns walked two-by-two from Wat Than to Wat Phnom to the Royal Palace in the culmination of a six-day march calling for peace in Sunday’s elections and the aftermath. The procession stretched for more than a kilometer at one point.
Later in the day, the Maha Ghosananda told supporters gathered in front of the palace that their countrymen deserve peace.
“We are the Cambodian people united working for peace, happiness and the elimination of violence in Cambodia,” he said.
Chum Sophal has bitter experience with the alternative to peace. Before he was a monk, he was a soldier in the State of Cambodia army in the late 1980s, fighting near the Thai border. He said he is not sure who the enemy was, Khmer Rouge, Funcinpec army or one of the other rebel groups in the decade-long civil war. All he knows is that he was fighting other Cambodians.
“Being a soldier is very difficult…. I was afraid many times,” he said. “Many people died at the border.”
The Dhammayietra started in Battambang province June 22 and has traveled through 15 provinces on its way to the capital, said Thida Khus, executive director of the NGO Silaka.
“It’s aim is to reduce violence and calm people’s fears for the election day,” he said.