Cambodian authorities ban Miss Landmine contest

Author: By Tom Peck

“The beauty contest would make a mockery of Cambodia’s land-mine victims,” government spokesman Khieu Khanarith said. “The government does not support this contest.”

The Ministry of Social Affairs sent a letter to the organisers of the pageant on Friday informing them of the ban and saying the contest would damage “the dignity and honour of the disabled”. The contest was scheduled for this Friday, with the Ministry of Social Affairs as one of its partners.

Organiser Morten Traavik said he was “disappointed” by the decision but said the contest would continue over the internet, with the winner being announced on 31 December. Online voting will continue until 3 December. Photos of the contestants can be seen at

Traavik, a Norwegian theatre and film director, set up the first Miss Landmine contest in Angola last year, which received funding from various organisations, including the EU. Twenty Cambodian women, aged between 18 and 48, are taking part this time round.

Hundreds of people are wounded each year in Cambodia, where an estimated 4 to 6 million unexploded mines remain after decades of civil war, and around 25,000 Cambodians have lost limbs in land-mine blasts.

Kek Galabru, president of the Phnom Penh human rights group Licadho, disapproves of the contest. “No doubt awareness is important,” she said. “But for me, this is using the victims. For them it is still very painful. But they’re saying ‘look at me, I’m still beautiful, even though I’ve lost my leg’. We don’t need to raise awareness in this questionable way.”

It was on a visit to Luanda, Angola’s capital, in 2003 that Traavik first had the idea after being asked to judge a “Miss Backstreet” beauty pageant and seeing several amputee land-mine victims on the streets of the city. The joint winners of the contest in Angola, Augusta Urica, 31, and Maria Restino Manuel, 26, were crowned Miss Landmine 2008 in Luanda last year, wearing designer gowns, sashes and tiaras.

In 2006 a Miss Cambodia contest was cancelled by the country’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who said he would not allow the event to go ahead until poverty had been more than halved.

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