The International Day of Peace in the Mekong

On the International Day of Peace, in Yangon, Myanmar, 26 young adults from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and China joined hundreds of locals to walk for peace.

Unlike previous years, local authorities approved civil society plans to hold the peace walk, and some high level government officials also joined. It was but another sign of Myanmar’s rapid, though fragile, transition to democracy.

Peace activists marched through eight townships, calling for national reconciliation, an end to Myanmar’s civil war, and justice for Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. 

“Stopping war alone will not achieve peace,” May Sabai Phyu from the Kachin Peace Network told local news networks. “We can achieve peace if there is fairness and justice."

Fighting in Kachin State, located near Myanmar’s northern border with China, has continued since a 17-year cease-fire broke down in June 2011, displacing some 100,000 people. The Kachin, along with other ethnic minorities, are seeking political dialogue and greater autonomy.

The 26 youth, visiting from all over the Mekong region, were in Myanmar to join the Mekong Peace Journey, an annual two-week peace-building training program supported by AFSC. It was their opportunity to learn from the situation in Myanmar, to discuss the historical perceptions that divide the region, and to learn how to build a new peace from the bottom up.  

May Aung Su, a Mekong Peace Journey organizer from Myanmar, said the program is “a starting point to build up peace for now and the future. The participants will keep sharing the message and language of peace throughout the region.”

Peace message responds to Cambodian political deadlock

Also on the International Day of Peace, in Cambodia, hundreds of youth, Buddhist monks, and followers of other religions gathered in Phnom Penh and two other Cambodian towns, calling for peace amid the country’s post-election political deadlock.

The week before, one person was shot dead and several others were injured in clashes with police amid demonstrations calling for an independent inquiry into election irregularities.

The non-political peace gathering received prior approval from local authorities. Event organizers said the ceremony helped de-escalate rising political tensions.

Cheang Sokha, one of the organizers, said, “The peace building action today is intended to send a message to all citizens, armed forces, and politicians to solve all economic, social, political, and religious problems by peaceful means.”

Chhit Muny, AFSC’s program officer, explains that this kind of gathering is critical in the tense, post-election environment. “Gathering people to learn about and act for peace will let the flowers bloom, instead of bullets,” he says.

“When people, especially young people, learn and use the language of peace, we can build up a strong movement for peace building, locally and regionally.”