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Street corner hosts call for peace

By MERRY FIRSCHEIN, North Jersey, October 23, 2007

FORT LEE, New Jersey (USA) -- A Buddhist monastic and other peace activists gathered at the corner of Lemoine Avenue and Bruce Reynolds Boulevard during the evening rush hour Monday, standing in silent protest against the crackdown on pro-democracy forces in Burma.

The protest was part of a peace walk from upstate New York to the Burmese Embassy in New York City.

Today, the group will walk across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan and end its march at the embassy. On Wednesday, it will hold a protest in front of the embassy in support of the Buddhist monks in Burma, officially known as Myanmar.

Jun-san, a Japanese-born female Buddhist monastic, is leading the group on the 215-mile walk.

"To take action against something, you cannot sit in a home and cry," said Jun-san, the founder of the Peace Pagoda in Grafton, N.Y. "Walking is simple, but difficult, too."

Nineteen people stood at one of the busiest corners in Bergen County. Cars drove by silently. A firetruck honked its horn as the driver waved out the window. People crossing Lemoine glanced at the large placards.

Jun-san, dressed in black pants and a white shirt and wrapped in a large saffron-yellow sash, sat at the curb in front of the Citibank building. She and two others beat out a rhythm on their drums and chanted a mantra. Others held Burmese flags and large signs -- some with photos of the recent events in Burma, and some saying "Free Aung San Suu Kyi," the leader of the pro-democracy movement in Burma.

The walk began Oct. 13 in Troy, N.Y., a suburb of Albany. The participants walk about 18 miles a day. The number of walkers has ranged from 30 to about 100. On Monday, 15 people strolled into Fort Lee.

Tayza Yeelin of Ithaca, N.Y., spent his 24th birthday protesting the government's actions in his home country.

"We must forget about the politics," said Yeelin, who came to the United States in 1997 from Burma as a political refugee. "Righteousness comes first."

Arya Jenkins, founder of the Fort Lee Peace Vigil, said the Burmese protesters standing at the corner bring close the events so far away. "They are here, and we are all connected," she said.

The latest demonstrations in Burma began in mid-August, when protests were held against increases in fuel costs. They grew into large pro-democracy rallies in September, led by thousands of red-robed monks.

After several days of demonstrations against the country's military rulers, soldiers fired upon a gathering in Yangon on Sept. 27. Unconfirmed reports said more than 1,000 monks have been arrested.

Last week, President Bush imposed financial sanctions on Myanmar, freezing the assets of some members of the military government.

Jun-san said the message she and the other activists wish to bring to the Burmese officials in New York City is simple.

"We are human," she said. "We are living on the same planet. We are just tiny beings. We are on a small, tiny planet. Why do we have to fight?"

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