Monks Plan to March Despite Gov’t Decision

Despite lacking government permission, monks on Monday called for other monks to join them in a peace march in Phnom Penh today.

The proposed dhammeiytra, or Buddhist peace march, is expected to start as government leaders prepare for a multi-party summit in Siem Reap to discuss how to form a coalition government.

The Phnom Penh municipal government on Friday rejected a request from three monks from Wat Ounalom for a permit for a sim­ilar demonstration on Sun­day.

Still, organizers from Wat Ounalom said they expect about 200 monks to meet in the garden in front of the Royal Palace at 7:30 am today.

The monks insist that by organizing the march they are not playing politics, but praying for peace.

“It is not a protest or a demonstration, but a dhammeiytra appealing for peace and nonviolence,” said Oudam Meta, a monk from Wat Ounalom and one of the march’s organizers. “We appeal to the authorities not to use violence against us, be­cause we will walk peacefully and appeal to solve our country’s problems by peaceful means.”

Several monks interviewed Monday said they would participate in the march, even while admitting their fear of confrontation with authorities.

“I don’t know how to avoid this except by stopping and trying to avoid the confrontation,” said a monk who asked not to be named.

Most of the wats in Phnom Penh have been notified of the march, said Oudam Meta. Monks said they distributed leaf­lets to several wats Monday.

But how long the march lasts remains to be seen. Police have been quick to break up protests and demonstrations around the city since the government crac­ked down on an opposition party vigil across from the National Assembly on Sept 7.

Some monks joined in opposition protests against alleged election violations earlier this month. At least two people were killed and countless more injured when police clashed with protesters for two weeks around the city.

The monks said that today they will “pray for peace and to relieve the sufferings” of Cam­bodians in recent government crackdowns on opposition pro­tests.

“These [police] actions stray ­too far from the advice of Bud­dhists, which people need to de­pend on in order to promote happiness for all living beings,” the demonstration’s organizers said in a statement distributed to wats around the city.

The march will leave the Royal Palace and travel along major roads in Phnom Penh, organizers said. Although they plan to continue marches every morning until Sunday, what actually happens will depend on how the police respond to today’s peace march, Oudam Meta said.

Municipal government officials, Interior Ministry officials and police could not be reached for comment Monday, which was a government holiday.

On Wednesday, the UN’s top human rights envoy to Cam­bodia, Thomas Hammar­berg, expressed concern over reports of 18 bodies seen and discovered around the capital since police action began Sept 7. Government officials have repeatedly denied any link between the bodies and police crackdowns on demonstrations.

No monks were killed in the protests, although police beat and intimidated monks in demonstrations.

Leading monks in Cambodia as well as government officials came down hard on monks participating in opposition party protests. Pro-CPP newspapers have featured pictures and stories of alleged “fake monks”—dem­onstrators hiding behind saffron robes.

Many wats reported that monks fled the city following the government’s crackdown out of fear for their safety. Rumors flew around the city of dead monks, but none have been officially confirmed. The UN rights office said multiple witnesses confirmed seeing two bodies with the clothes of Buddhist monks.

The city, in a Friday statement signed by Chief of Cabinet Mann Chhoeurn, denied the monks’ original request because “op­portunists­ may stir up chaos, disorder and social instability.”

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