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Buddhist peace walkers hold Myanmar discussion in Upper Nyack


UPPER NYACK, New York (USA) -- A group of Burmese monks and political refugees gathered at the Fellowship of Reconciliation's headquarters yesterday as part of an effort to spread awareness about tragic events in Myanmar.

<< Buddhist monks on their way to the United Nations rest with their supporters at the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Upper Nyack after yesterday's walk on Route 9W through Rockland County. The monks, in yellow robes, are, from left, Jun Yasuda of Grafton, N.Y., Towbee Keyes of the Peace Pagoda in Amherst, Mass., and Sister Clare Carter, who works with Keyes in Amherst. Burmese monks walk with supporters down Route 9W before an evening at the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Upper Nyack. Burmese monks and supporters walk along Route 9W through Rockland County during yesterday's march. Photo: Kathy Gardner/The Journal News

The gathering was one of several stops the group has made during a 12-day peace march from the upstate Grafton Peace Pagoda to the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan.

Their focus is on the violence the military regime in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has inflicted on Buddhist monks and residents who have been peacefully protesting the repressive government there. The demonstrations began two months ago and were sparked by a sudden increase in the price of gas and other commodities by as much as 500 percent.

About three dozen people attended the discussion, which began with an opening prayer of melodic chants that rang with sadness but were recited with fervor. Candlelight reflected in posters that read "FREE BURMA" as smoke and sweet aromas rose from incense sticks.

The Myanmar walkers sat cross-legged before the audience and shared stories about their ties to Myanmar and why they had joined the walk. Many of them said they had escaped during the last major anti-governmental protests in 1988 but maintained contact with friends and relatives there.

"The hope of the people in Burma has already faded away," said Tayza Yeelin, who led the discussion. "As we are speaking now, they are attacking our villages. This is something that is not right."

Yeelin, 23, who lives in Ithaca, said he and his parents joined the walk for righteous, not political, reasons. He said they, like many Myanmar people, have been horrified to hear that Buddhist monasteries have been raided, especially because monks are among the most highly regarded citizens of Myanmar.

"I am just here for civilians who are dying," Yeelin said. "When people of Burma suffer, I suffer."

Audience members asked Yeelin questions about the extent of violence the military regime has inflicted on Myanmar residents and whether local news accounts have been accurate. The audience also expressed their admiration and support for the group's efforts.

The peace walk, organized by peace activist Jun Yasuda, a Buddhist monk, will conclude Wednesday with a three-day hunger strike, the group said. The walkers plan to ask the U.N. Security Council to take action and start an effective dialogue, "not just lip service," Yeelin said.

The group also will urge the U.N. to demand an end to violence and ensure that the military regime releases all Buddhist monks and political leaders who have been imprisoned, including pro-democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who played a crucial role in the 1988 uprising.

Yeelin said the Myanmar people fear she will be assassinated at any moment.

"The people of Burma have very strong faith in her. ... She sacrificed everything. She's for the people," he said. "She's our only hope at this point."

The group said it has between 25 and 50 walkers each day. At 7 this morning, group members plan to begin walking along Route 9W toward Fort Lee, N.J.

Yeelin said the group is hoping to spread awareness about violence in Myanmar and the need for the U.N. to intervene. He invited anyone to join the walk, even for only a few minutes.

"It is an incredible peaceful thing," he said. "It makes you happy."

Yeelin also asked people to write letters to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, House members and senators to express the importance of bringing peacekeeping troops to Myanmar.

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