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Govt blocks meeting with contestants

Govt blocks meeting with contestants

090806_05
Miss Battambang, Dos Sopheap.

THE organiser of the ill-fated Miss Landmine pageant still wants to show his appreciation to the contestants, despite being told by government officials that a meeting with the women would be "absolutely out of the question".

The Ministry of Social Affairs issued a decree on Sunday banning organiser Morten Traavik from staging the event, which had been intended to celebrate land mine survivors.

Traavik said the ministry has since instructed its provincial offices not to assist any of the women in travelling to Phnom Penh to meet with him, where he was planning to host a dinner and give each of them a gift of US$200.

"If they refuse to let me meet with Cambodian citizens ... as a private person, that is an even more blatant example of an authoritarian system," Traavik said.

Despite these frustrations, Traavik plans to comply with the government decree, although the Miss Landmine Web site, hosted on foreign soil, will remain online.

"I'm a Norwegian citizen.... But for my Cambodian friends and partners, I have to put their well-being in front of everything else," he said.

On Wednesday, the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation (CDPO) issued a statement in support of the government ban. CDPO officials had previously collaborated with Traavik on the pageant.

"We would like to express our gratitude for the valuable recommendations of ... [Minister of Social Affairs] Ith Sam Heang, who offered his timely advice to the CDPO," the statement read.

CDPO's executive director, Ngin Saorath, said that the organisation works closely with the ministry on a variety of projects and must maintain good relations. "What the government decides, we have to respect," he said.

Traavik was unsurprised by the CDPO's reversal, saying that their statement was written "in full understanding" with him.

Ngin Saorath, however, downplayed the significance of the controversy. "It doesn't mean this is the end of the rights of people with disabilities," he said.

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