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Pageant proceeds in Norway

091117_05
A photo of the winner of Miss Landmine Cambodia, Miss Battambang Dos Sopheap, is presented in Oslo on Saturday. The pageant was held in exile, as it previously was forbidden in Cambodia.

I'm getting used to having one leg and my feeling of discrimination is reduced.

A CONTROVERSIAL beauty pageant for Cambodian land mine victims found its winners on Saturday at a “final-in-exile” ceremony in Kristiansand, Norway, hosted by Norway’s Association of Cambodians and its Khmer Buddhist Council.

Miss Battambang, 18-year-old Dos Sopheap, was crowned Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 in absentia, followed by first runner-up Miss Takeo, 30-year-old Thou Chorn, and second runner-up Miss Kompong Cham, So Yeu, 35.

The contest, organised by Norwegian land-mine survivor advocates, was banned from taking place in Cambodia by a July 31 government decree, which also forbade the 20 contestants to leave their hometowns to participate in the pageant elsewhere. The decree said that the pageants “made a mockery” of Cambodia’s disabled. The contestants were represented at the ceremony by photographs carried down the catwalk by Cambodian-Norwegian women.

Dos Sopheap, a high school senior, said Monday that she was thrilled to find out she would receive the pageant’s grand prize: a custom-made prosthesis. “I never thought I could win the award,” Dos Sopheap said. “I was very excited when I received the information. I was glad to participate
in the contest because I want people to know that disabled women are not discouraged.”

Dos Sopheap said she initially faced discrimination for her injury, but that her struggle to live and study earned her the admiration of neighbours and classmates. “I’m now getting used to having one leg, and my feeling of discrimination is reduced,” she said.

Her mother, 38-year-old Kong Navy, said Dos Sopheap, the second of five children, lost her leg in 1996 when she was 6 years old. She was visiting her father, a soldier, who took her on a fishing trip with his friends. When one of the men stepped on a land mine, the explosion injured six people, including Dos Sopheap and her father, who lost his left hand.

“I felt very shocked when they were injured,” Kong Navy said. “Sopheap was mistreated for having one leg. She cried and cried, but I consoled her, saying not to be angry with villagers and to tell herself, ‘They will stop discriminating against you one day.’ I felt pity for my daughter, but now I am proud of her.” Her daughter hopes one day to become an accountant or open a wedding dress shop, she said.

Morten Traavik, programme leader of Miss Landmine Cambodia, said by email on Monday that the winner will receive a Norwegian-built prosthetic leg worth approximately $20,000 and $500 in cash to support her education. The runners-up will receive $300 each as seed money for their own businesses.

“We would naturally have liked to have given them more,” Traavik wrote, “but the money will all come from the Miss Landmine project’s own limited funds, as the [Cambodian] government’s ban on the project naturally prevents any sponsors from coming on, as was the original plan.”

Traavik was hesitant to discuss how prizes would be disbursed without an “explicit guarantee from the government that ... our candidates will not be subject to any negative consequences for accepting these prizes.”

Leng Sochea, deputy permanent secretary general at the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, rebutted his concerns. “The winners will not face any problems receiving their awards. The government is not as cruel as they think,” he said.

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