Signature Stands Between Disabled Child, US Surgeons

A last-minute snag has thrown into jeopardy the opportunity for 2-year-old disabled orphan Roth Arun to seek medical treatment abroad, at the end of a long bureaucratic struggle to attain his passage to the US.

After several days of seeking permission from officials at various ministries and departments, Roth Arun finally received his passport and visa to go to the US Wednesday.

But just as organizers of his trip thought they had jumped the last hurdle, Yuon Sovanna, director of the Nutrition Center where the child currently resides, gave notice late Wednesday that she would not release the boy without a letter signed by Ith Sam Heng, Minister of Social Affairs.

Without the letter, Roth Arun may miss his flight Thursday evening, which would take him to to the US, where doctors have offered to operate on a growth on his face and fit his left arm and leg for prostheses.

“I cannot allow it unless there is a formal letter from the Ministry of Social Affairs,” Yuon Sovanna said.

She added that she had been clear about the requirement from the beginning.

However, staff at the NGO American Assistance For Cambodia said the demand for the letter was lodged at the last minute.

Earlier Wednesday morning spirits were high and Roth Arun was animated as he left the Nutrition Center, blowing kisses to his caretakers and samphaning with his right hand and left arm as he left for the US Embassy.

People crowded around him as his visa photos developed, one woman offering him 1,000 riel, which his caretaker used to buy him some potato chips. Sok Tek, senior customer services officer at Silk Air, pledged special attention from airline staff during Roth Arun’s flight.

But following Yuon Sovanna’s demand Wednesday night, AAFC staff were urgently pleading their case to security guards outside Minister Ith Sam Heng’s home, where Roth Arun’s supporter, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, deputy prime minister and co-Minister of Interior, had suggested they go to obtain the letter.

They failed to contact the minister. A guard at the minister’s home, however, offered to take the unsigned letter inside, but said a response would have to wait until today.

AAFC staff decided instead to bring the papers to Toch Chay, chief of the Cabinet of the Ministry of Social Affairs, who had earlier asked them to meet him at a streetside cafe near Independence Monument. When they arrived, however, he was nowhere to be found and had stopped answering his phone.

AAFC staff returned to Ith Sam Heng’s house, but found the guards even less cooperative, refusing even to accept the papers they had earlier offered to take inside.

After numerous attempts, AAFC staff finally reached Toch Chay, who was incensed that they had gone directly to the minister. He refused to meet the staffbut told the guards to take the documents inside.

Toch Chay said, however, that the minister may not sign the letter before leaving for Kratie province on Thursday.

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