A Myanmar beauty queen claims she has been defamed and unceremoniously dethroned over a video she made commenting on ethnic and religious violence in her country’s volatile west.
Shwe Eain Si, a 19-year-old pageant runner-up, lost her Miss Grand Myanmar title, as well as her eligibility to compete in an upcoming pageant after she waded into politically charged waters.
In the video, Shwe Eain Si blamed the crisis, which has sent more than 509,000 refugees fleeing across the border to Bangladesh, on Rohingya militants. The video sets graphic images of mutilated bodies to a piano accompaniment as the beauty contestant suggests that the international community has misrepresented the crisis.
Responding to pageant officials in a statement posted to Facebook on Oct. 3, the beauty queen claimed she was the victim of a “pathetic” smear campaign after her video told “the truth” about the conflict. She promised to sue the pageant organizers. The company, Hello Madam Media Group, has said the dethroning was unrelated to the video, and stemmed from a prior decision related to vulgar language and conduct unsuitable for a “miss.”
“It is only expected of the public to voice my opinions and concerns on the recent violence and massacre happening in Rakhine state of my country,” she said in the video. Speaking in English she goes on to accuse the militants and their supporters of conducting a “successful media campaign so that harbingers of violence and terror themselves are now seen as if they are oppressed.”
The long-simmering conflict revolves around the predominantly stateless Muslim Rohingya population. In October last year the decades-long persecution of the ethnic minority group was further exacerbated when an emergent militant group launched attacks on police outposts. The retaliatory scorched-earth campaign by Myanmar security forces was dogged by widespread, U.N.-documented accusations of extrajudicial killings, arson and mass rape.
On Aug. 25, fresh violence erupted after the Rohingya rebels, newly self-styled as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), launched a second, more coordinated attack. Again, the military reprisal elicited allegations of indiscriminate killings and an even more extensive burning campaign.
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The violence has spawned a humanitarian catastrophe across the border with Bangladesh where Rohingya refugees — 60% of whom are children — have sought sanctuary. The U.N. has labeled the situation a case of “textbook ethnic cleansing.” Members of the ethnic Rakhine community and other minorities such as Hindus have also been affected by the violence.
Myanmar has denied visas to U.N. investigators and journalists and international aid groups have been barred from visiting the affected villages in Rakhine state.
Earlier this week, however, a group of diplomats and U.N. representatives joined a government-guided tour of the conflict area at the behest of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
World leaders and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates have called on Suu Kyi to condemn military atrocities and end the violence. But the former democracy icon has defended her country’s handling of the crisis.