Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Clinton hails expanding ties


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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:02 Cameron Wells

US SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton has praised the growing partnership between Cambodia and the United States despite the suspension of a shipment of military trucks as punishment for the Kingdom’s deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China last year.

“Together, we have expanded cooperation on law enforcement issues, food security, the environment, and international peacekeeping,” she said in a letter congratulating the Kingdom on its upcoming Khmer New Year celebrations.

“On this festive occasion, let me reaffirm our commitment to both the partnership between our governments and the friendship between our people.”

The praise comes despite a statement by US government officials that the deportation of the Uighurs would affect Cambodia’s relationship with Washington.

The US also faces calls from international rights advocates to take a tougher stance against Cambodia after its action against the Uighurs, which many observers saw as an attempt to appease key donor China.

The group Human Rights Watch has written to Clinton, calling for more severe US government sanctions such as a renewed ban on military-to-military funding and the return of refugee status-determination responsibilities to the UN refugee office.

“We share the State Department’s deep concern about the fate of this group ... [and] have received unconfirmed reports that some returnees have been tried and sentenced to death,” the letter stated.

However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong on Monday called the Uighurs’ deportation a “very small” issue, and said Clinton’s letter was proof that the bond between the US and Cambodia remains strong, despite the withholding of military aid.

“Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong welcomes her statement,” he said. “We hope that bilateral ties between the United States and Cambodian governments develop further after the 60th anniversary of our bilateral relations in July this year.”

Clinton also praised the work of the Cambodian government in finally bringing Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, to trial.

“This past year, Cambodians marked an historic milestone when, for the first time in three decades, a Khmer Rouge official was held accountable for his crimes,” she wrote.

Court to investigate governor in sex crime


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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

PREAH Vihear provincial court officials say they are investigating accusations that a district governor attempted to rape a primary school teacher while he was staying overnight at her house in February.

The 20-year-old victim said she had been attacked while Ung Vuthy, governor of Sangkum Thmey district, was lodging at her home in Sdao commune before performing a raid on illegal logging operations in the area.

Long Sitha, deputy provincial court prosecutor, confirmed that chief prosecutor Keo Son had already interviewed the woman about the incident.

“If any evidence is found that proves the allegation, they will question the district governor before laying any charges,” he said.

The woman said she did not initially take her complaint to authorities because she thought it would be a waste of time. But the Interior Ministry’s provincial Anti-human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department urged her to file a complaint to allow further investigation.

“With instructions from a police official from the Ministry of Interior, my family urged me to lodge the complaint in March, and also to lodge separate complaints to the provincial court, as well as Adhoc,” a local rights group, she said.

“It really damaged my reputation, as I am single,” she said, adding that she has requested US$5,000 in compensation.

Ung Vuthy could not be reached for comment Monday.

Prak Saran, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said his organisation has launched separate investigations into the complaint.

Jailed editor awaits New Year’s amnesty

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Hang Chakra, publisher of the Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court after a June 2009 hearing.

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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:01 Kim Yuthana and Vong Sokheng

IMPRISONED newspaper editor Hang Chakra is expected to receive a royal pardon in time for Khmer New Year, officials said Monday, but it is still unclear exactly when he will be released, and both officials and Hang Chakra’s family say they have not been given a specific date.

Pov Buntheoun, director of the Criminal Department at the Justice Ministry, said Monday that Hang Chakra was on a list of 404 prisoners sent to King Norodom Sihamoni in early April as part of an amnesty request by the Ministry of Interior. Traditionally, the King offers pardons or reduced sentences to select prisoners at festivals like Khmer New Year.

“Hang Chakra is a priority candidate in the list of requests for pardon,” said Pov Buntheoun. “However, so far, I have not received a Royal Decree of pardon from the King and we cannot force the King to sign. Therefore we are just waiting.”

Hang Chakra, the former editor-in-chief of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, was sentenced to one year in prison last June after a court convicted him of spreading disinformation.

It came after his newspaper published a series of stories alleging corruption among high-ranking officials. The next month, Hang Chakra wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen to apologise, pledging not to report on the corruption allegations again if he were to be released.

On Monday, Hang Chakra’s daughter said her family has received no information on when her father will be freed.

“My father told me he would be happy if he would be released from prison before the Khmer New Year in order to gather with the family,” said Hang Chan Pisey. “He wishes that the news being spread about his release will come true.”

Meanwhile, Khmer Machas Srok stopped publishing earlier this month for financial reasons, according to the paper’s new editor in chief, Chum Sophal, who hopes to restart operations after Hang Chakra’s release.

“We are in a difficult situation for publishing our newspaper because we were facing a lot of pressure,” he said. “Our advertising clients would withdraw [their advertisements] when they received pressure from the government.”

More timber seized from hotels in Siem Reap as raids continue


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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:01 Rann Reuy

SIEM REAP PROVINCE

OFFICIALS in Siem Reap province have confiscated more than 150 cubic metres of luxury wood in raids on two separate hotels, one of which is owned by a government official.

Tea Kimsoth, deputy director of Siem Reap’s provincial Forestry Administration, said that during operations Sunday, authorities had discovered the wood in the nearly completed Sambara Resort and Spa Hotel and an unfinished hotel owned by Ngor Srun, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers.

“We will still keep the wood at their places, because they have large hotels, and we will put it up for bid if the court finds that the wood is illegal,” he said.

He said that 74 cubic metres of wood from the phnong tree were found in Ngor Srun’s hotel, while 83 cubic metres of sralao wood was found at the Sambara Resort. The hotels were stockpiling wood in order to construct furniture, Tea Kimsoth said.

“I believe that this is almost all of the wood stockpiled, because we have checked nearly all of the big hotels in Siem Reap,” he said.

Ngor Srun could not be reached for comment Monday.

Ty Soveinthal, Siem Reap provincial prosecutor, said court officials had not arrested the hotel owners because no laws existed to keep businesses or individuals from stockpiling timber, unless it was proven to be illegally procured.

“If you want me to arrest them, you can ask the National Assembly to amend Article 96 of the Forestry Law, which says we can only fine them,” he said.

The escalation of illegal timber raids follows a directive issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January, when he told an audience of military commanders that he would no longer tolerate illegal logging and other crimes perpetrated by high-ranking officials.

Ty Sokun, former director of the Forestry Administration, said in March that since the directive was issued, more than 100 raids had been conducted and more than 3,000 cubic metres of timber had been collected. However, he was fired by Hun Sen on April 6 for failing to successfully crack down on illegal logging.

Dirty water kills four in Ratanakkiri


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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:01 Mom Kunthear and Tep Nimol

FOUR ethnic Brov villagers from Ratanakkiri province’s Veun Sai district died on Saturday from acute diarrhoea after drinking unclean water during a forest excursion, and another 10 villagers were being treated at Koh Pong commune health centre.

Chum Ngel, district governor, said Monday that the four deceased Brov villagers, who were all from the same family, had gone into the forest to look for fruit to sell. “They drank dirty water when they went into the forest,” he said.

He said that the mother Lam Ven, 39, daughter Puth Chanthou, 17, son Puth Chenda, 12, and brother-in-law Poy Romdos, 35, did not reach the health centre in time for treatment because they lived in a “remote” village.

Chum Ngel said that on Sunday he had asked authorities in Veun Sai to educate villagers about proper hygiene and advise them to seek immediate treatment in the event of future cases.

“Indigenous villagers do not like to come to the health centre,” he said. “They use traditional medicines, which we are concerned may spread the disease to other villagers.”

Fortune-teller predictions dire as Year of the Tiger looms up

Photo by: Bejan Siavoshy
Fortune teller Sok Mie consults an astrology handbook near the Royal Palace on Monday. Soothsayers predict a dire Year of the Tiger, which they say will be marked by floods, droughts and violence.

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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:01 Khouth Sophakchakrya

THE Year of the Tiger will see a continuation of drought, diseases, flooding and violence in Cambodia, the capital’s fortune-tellers said on the eve of the new year, but the anticipated disasters will do little to seriously impact the Kingdom’s economic development in the upcoming year.

Chea Samnang, 57, a soothsayer from Chamkarmon district’s Tonle Bassac commune, said abnormal weather is expected to wreak havoc on crop production in the coming year, with the dry season continuing longer than usual, causing a major drought, followed by floods in September and October.

“About 30 percent of agriculture production will be lost to natural disasters, insect infestation and disease this year,” she said, adding that, as far as deaths go, most occurring this year will be “due to traffic accidents”.

Another fortune teller, Sok Mie, 65, said that political strife due to border conflicts will persist until the end of 2010. Likewise, the political arena will be impacted this year, when many corrupt politicians will be tried and prosecuted following a sweep of arrests, especially politicians born in the Year of the Tiger.

“This year is dangerous to those committing acts violating the law and humanity, especially civil servants and members of the military,” he predicted.

There are those who believe that people born in the Year of the Tiger, especially females, are prone to be stubborn or ill-tempered, along with being “unlucky in love”.

However, Phnom Penh resident Triv Sovannry, 25, said she is hoping that she will give birth to a child during the new year. She said that she and her husband, both born in the Year of the Tiger, have been blessed with good fortune throughout their lives.

Ministry bans skin-whitening product


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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:01 Khuon Leakhana and Mom Kunthear

THE Health Ministry has banned the import and sale of a Vietnamese skin-whitening cream that caused the death of a 23-year-old woman in Banteay Meanchey province last month, officials said Monday.

A cream identified as part of a line of products from Vietnamese brand Kem Lot Lanh Thom Cao Cap was responsible for the death of Chhuon Sovann in early March, and the product’s labelling does not include a complete list of ingredients, according to a Health Ministry statement released late last week.

Heng Bun Keat, director of the Ministry’s Food and Drug Department, said Monday that customers will be warned and the product removed from shops. “The Health Ministry requires all provincial health departments to broadcast widely through the media,” he said. “They also have to collect this product from beauty centres.”

Yim Yann, president of the Pharmacists’ Association of Cambodia, praised the move Monday, saying that the Health Ministry has not monitored the import and sale of dangerous beauty products closely enough in the past.

“If importing this kind of whitening cream was illegal, no one would have died,” he said. He added that legitimate products can also be dangerous if the directions are not followed.

Heng Bun Keat said the ministry will begin a nationwide campaign at the start of next month to monitor the quality of imported beauty products sold in salons and markets.

“Officials from the Food and Drug Department have already started collating the number of beauty salons in the city to see how many exist and how many of them have a licence, in order to make it easier to manage,” he said.

Demand for motorcycles revs up for the New Year

Photo by: Pha Lina
A Yamaha shop on Street 169 in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district on Monday. Sales of new motorbikes have spiked in the run-up to Khmer New Year after a poor 2009.

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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:00 May Kunmakara

Vendors see increased sales of new bikes as festivities begin.

DEMAND for new motorcycles has rebounded in the months leading into the New Year, though sales of second-hand bikes remains stagnant, dealers and retailers said Monday.

“I think people are starting to spend more on modern things, like buying brand new motorcycles, because most of them think our economy has recovered,” said Vouch Lay, a Suzuki dealer in Phnom Penh.

“They aren’t limiting their spending like they did last year. Especially in the last two months – most of them [made purchases] to welcome the New Year.”

Vouch Lay said she was selling between 50 and 60 motorcycles per month in the first quarter, a bump up from the 30 or 40 she sold in the final months of 2009.

However, that number was not even close to her sales in 2008, when she sold 1,000 bikes – compared to 300 total in 2009.

She had not lowered prices, she said, and was struggling to make enough to cover operating expenses.

“I hope this year will be good for us,” she said.

Lay Hout, whose eponymous store sells Honda motorcycles in the capital, said he was selling seven or eight new bikes a day, whereas during the same period last year, he could move only two or three a day.

“For the first three months of this year, sales have been good,” he said. “I’ve seen demand for new motorcycles surge from late last year until now.”

Lay Hout said he had dropped about US$20 from a price tag of $1,550 on new Hondas, having sold more than 1,000 bikes in 2009.

Lay Hout, too, said sales climbed thanks to the New Year – the end of a demand period that typically runs from November to April.

Reports from shops indicate that the interest in secondhand motorcycles remains flat.

“I think that this year, we’ve seen an increase in demand for brand-new ones, but for secondhand it’s still not good yet,” said Sok Phalra, owner of Japan Motorcycles, who sells new and used bikes.

Prices for new bikes are sliding, making them more tempting for buyers, he said.

“I don’t dare say whether my sales are better or not compared to last year,” he added.

Secondhand motorcycle sales for Sok Hy, who runs his own shop on Sihanouk Boulevard, have not recovered from 2008.

“Most buyers now prefer to buy brand new ones rather than secondhand motorcycles, because the price is nearly comparable,” he said, adding that he expected better sales in the second quarter once potential customers were finished farming.

A slump in motorcycle sales delayed the construction of an $11.5 million Yamaha plant in 2008, pending a recovery in the market.

Yamaha officials said they would consider coming back in 2011 if market conditions improved in Cambodia.

Chemical fertiliser demand grows


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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:00 Chun Sophal

THE Yitak Group plans to supply local farmers with around 30,000 tonnes of chemical fertiliser this year, a company official told the Post, signalling even more demand in Cambodia for the product.

Sok Chheng, marketing manager for Yitak, Cambodia’s largest fertiliser distributor, said Sunday it was increasing distribution to meet rising demand.

“We hope that the amount of fertiliser the company distributes to farmers this year will increase by at least 10,000 tonnes,” Sok Chheng said.

The company began in 2002 as the sole distributor of fertiliser for the Vietnamese company Binh Dien, distributing just 2,000 tonnes. In 2009, it sold 20,000 tonnes in 16 provinces, at an average of US$340 per tonne.

Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said Monday that most arable land in Cambodia is becoming less fertile as a result of overfarming. Overworked soil requires more fertiliser, but farmers should use natural versions, such as compost, he said.

“We think that using chemical fertiliser cannot solve the problem for farmers because it cannot ensure long-term soil quality,” he said.

Though chemical fertiliser can greatly improve yields, some people believe it can be harmful to consumers and farmers alike. An estimated 20 companies are now importing chemical fertiliser for sale in Cambodia, which is pushing to increase yields and boost exports.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in a report last week that Cambodia imported more than 170,000 tonnes of chemical fertiliser in 2009.

A $65 million chemical fertiliser plant in Kandal Province’s Kien Svay District is expected to begin operation in 2012, after government approval.

Lending remains flat at FTB Cambodia


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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:00 Nguon Sovan

THE FOREIGN Trade Bank of Cambodia saw a slight rise in its non-performing loans (NPL) in the first quarter of 2010, while lending was flat, according to official figures.

The bank’s NPL rate – counted as loans the borrower has defaulted on for three months – rose to 6 percent from 5.56 percent in the last quarter of 2009. Lending remained at US$105 million each quarter.

“We’re still cautious in evaluating clients for loans, and it’s currently hard to get a good client with a good business plan,” FTB General Manager Gui Anvanith said last week. “We’ll dare to lend as much as $50 million if it’s a good business project.”

The FTB has witnessed a huge turnaround in its non-performing loans from 2008, when it had the highest NPL rate in Cambodia at 32 percent. By the end of 2009, that rate had been cut to 5.56 percent, surprising bank managers themselves.

Like other banks in the Kingdom, FTB is maintaining high liquidity, with $168 million deposited in the central bank at the end of last year.

FTB is focusing on business ventures, small and medium-sized enterprises and agricultural businesses, rather than real estate developments, Gui Anvanith said.

“We have little appetite for hotel-development projects,” he said. “For those in [Phnom Penh], we might consider them, but those in Siem Reap, we say no, as the province is too crowded with hotels.”

The bank is avoiding other real estate projects, such as apartments, with tens of thousands of units built and many unable to find buyers, he said.

Deposits at the FTB rose 1.7 percent, to $230 million, quarter on quarter, and the bank posted a first-quarter net profit of $1.38 million.

Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, said business conditions for banks have been improving so far this year.

“First-quarter performance has been strong at [ANZ Royal], with revenue more than 20 percent higher than for the first quarter last year,” he said.

Higgins expects his bank to comfortably surpass results for 2009, when the bank’s NPL rate nearly doubled to 5 percent.

Cambodian banks and lending institutions saw their NPL rates rise after the global economic downturn, as borrowers abandoned projects and payments.

The National Bank has said the rate of NPLs is not of great concern, as it has remained below 10 percent of all outstanding loans.

Govt axes Internet monopoly plan


Photo by: Sovan Philong
Chhuc Hao Lu, 24, checks a wireless router at Yako Discovery (Cambodia) Soho, a computer dealer in Phnom Penh's Tuol Kork district, on Monday.

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Tuesday, 13 April 2010 15:00 Ellie Dyer

Source at MPTC meeting says minister ruled out scheme to create state-run Internet hub.

THE Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) has axed plans to create a state-run hub for all Internet connections in Cambodia, according to an attendee of a crunch meeting held late Monday.

Minster of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun told a dozen business representatives the ministry will not compel Cambodian companies to use a central Domestic Internet Exchange (DIX), the attendee said.

Instead, the source said, So Khun told the representatives and about 30 MPTC officials that Internet connections can be routed through any exchange that Internet service providers (ISPs) see fit.

“We are pleased and relieved,” said the source, a member of the private sector who requested anonymity late Monday. “It seems our worst fears are not going to happen.”

“This was coming from the minister himself,” the source said. “It is very good news.”

MPTC had wanted to charge private companies to route all domestic traffic through a monopoly managed by the state-run Telecom Cambodia (TC), a move that private interests worried had the potential to crush the burgeoning sector.

Leading businessmen have voiced fears over the last two months that centralising the Kingdom’s Web provision could put US$500 million worth of infrastructure at risk, hand control of connectivity pricing to the state, stymie international investment and effectively end the Kingdom’s open ICT market.

Private sector representatives have said the plan may have been suggested to shore up TC finances ahead of the opening of Cambodia’s securities exchange, a claim TC officials denied.

Instead, TC leaders said the hub plan was to give the ministry more control over Web content.

MPTC’s decision Monday is an apparent backtrack from a plan that the ministry’s director general, Moa Chakrya once detailed to the Post.

Moa Chakrya could not be reached for comment late Monday.

However, the attendee said Monday that ministry officials denied floating the plan as definitive and said the organisation had instead only been formulating ideas.

Private sector officials were also criticised for speaking to the media, the source said.

Moving forward, the attendee said, MPTC suggested that exchange providers would need licences to operate. It was not clear how these would be enforced or set out.

The government’s issue of overlapping frequency licences to ISPs was also discussed. But a resolution, the source said, had yet to be reached.

CAMBODIA CELEBRATES KHMER TRADITIONAL NEW YEAR FROM WEDNESDAY

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Apr 12th, 2010

PHNOM PENH, April 12 (NNN-AKP) — The Cambodian people will celebrate this week from April 14 to 16 their traditional New Year.

Cambodia’s traditional New Year, “Chaul Chhnam Thmei” generally falls in around mid April or the Chet, the fifth month of the Cambodian lunar calendar during which peasants are relieved of their farm work after the dry-season rice harvest.

Three days before new year’s eve, houses and pagodas are decorated with flowers, fresh, plastic or paper, with multiform lamps, candles, colored papers, incense sticks and small paddy or rice mounds (formerly built of sand as a symbol of good harvest) which later will be carried to pagodas as an offering to monks.

On New Year eve an exorcist rite is held to pray for the happiness and prosperity in the coming year. Everything is well arranged in advance in each family so that people can be free from kitchen work during the festive days.

During the New Year festival which lasts for three days, Cambodians especially the aged, go to pagodas, where usually traditional music is played by an orchestra called “Pinpeat”, to make offerings to monks and pray for the souls of their ancestors.

Young people are the most to enjoy the New Year festival. They dance day and night the Roam Vong (the most popular dance in Cambodia), or join in different games such as “Chol Chhoung” (knotted scarf throwing-participants group, themselves in two-one male and one female-members of each group, standing in a line take turn to throw the knotted scarf to the other side.

Those who fail to catch the scarf have to sing a song, “Angkunh” (nut-throwing similar to the billiard game but on the ground instead of the table).

Nowadays, several traditional games such as gushing colored water at passer-by as a wish for luck, or bamboo canoe race, etc. are no longer seen in the country excluding few northwestern areas such as Siem Reap, Battambang, but other entertainments such as artistic performances, film shows, circus, etc.

In the country-side, long-handle guitar singers are often invited to sing in praise of legendary or real heroes or heroines, or of revolutionary exploits. People would gather either in pagodas to worship, or in public parks to contemplate the natural beauty.

In urban centers, people, in their Sunday best, stroll around public gardens, and in parks, visit splendid sites and historical monuments or see expositions.

In the past three or four decades, Cambodian, urban people and countrymen alike, preferred picnicking or visiting ancient temples, including Angkor Wat, during the New Year holidays.

Meanwhile, the Royal Family has given donation to some 504 poor families from Samaki Meanchey and Kampong Tralach districts of Kampong Chhnang province.

The donation was given by Queen-Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, accompanied by Cambodian Red Cross President Mrs. Bun Rany Hun Sen, in a ceremony held at Kampong Tralach.

On the occasion, Queen-Mother conveyed best wishes from King Norodom Sihamoni and King-Father Norodom Sihanouk to the people. She also praised the CRC president for her attention to the poor and her cleverness in mobilizing humanitarian force among the public.

Each of the 504 families received rice, noodle, can fish, clothes, mosquito net, blanket, mineral water and a certain amount of money. — NNN-AKP

Thailand's military sticks knife in as election commission rules against Abhisit



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April 12, 2010 — Thailand's Election Commission has recommended the embattled ruling party of Abhisit Vejjajiva be dissolved, potentially handing victory to anti-government protesters who have demanded the prime minister step down.

The ruling comes the same day that Thailand's influential army chief appeared to back a key demand of the protesters, saying Parliament might need to be dissolved to resolve the country's violent political standoff.

Anupong Paochinda, Chief of Army:

"If the issue can't be resolved through political means, I understand that the parliament dissolution has to come, now it seems like I'm involved in politics, I think it would end in dissolution. When to dissolve is for them to discuss, as well as the time frame and constitution amendment. Now I'm too involved. I understand that it will end with parliament dissolution. Some people have suggested a government of national unity, I don't know. I'll leave the matter to them. I only want peace, that's all I'm asking."


Together, these comments and the election body's decision could spell the end of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's rule. The commission found the Democrat Party guilty of misusing campaign donations.

Abhisit was seen as having the backing of the military, which has traditionally played an important role in the country's politics. But his control of security forces has increasingly been called into question as protesters repeatedly marched through the capital.

In the recent clashes 21 people were killed. It was the worst political violence Thailand has seen in two decades.

Red-shirted protesters paraded coffins through Thailand's capital in a renewed show of contempt for the government.

Prime Minister Abhisit blamed the bloodshed on a small group of troublemakers, whom he called "terrorists", and continued to refuse to dissolve his government:

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thai Prime Minister:

"Looking at the overview of what's happening currently, we are able to see clearly that a group of people, whom we can consider as terrorists, had taken advantage of the gathering of innocent people who rallied for democracy and against injustice, and used it as a tool of create unrest in the country, hoping for a major change."

US Wishes Cambodia Well for Year of the Tiger

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The US State Department issued a message to the Cambodian government Monday, congratulating it on the successful completion of the first trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, as the country heads toward New Year celebrations.

Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Monday, 12 April 2010

Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cambodian girl douses a statue of Buddha with blessed water beginning Khmer New Year celebrations at a pagoda in Phnom Penh.

The US State Department issued a message to the Cambodian government Monday, congratulating it on the successful completion of the first trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, as the country heads toward New Year celebrations.

“Over the last year, the partnership between our two nations has grown stronger and deeper,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in the statement.

“Together we have expanded cooperation on law enforcement issues, food security, the environment, and international peacekeeping,” she said. “I congratulate the people of the Kingdom of Cambodia on the occasion of Khmer New Year.”

She also congratulated Cambodia on a “historical milestone,” the completion of a trial for Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch, in 2009. Duch was tried under a hybrid UN-Cambodia court whose inception was supported by the US.

Cambodia and the US will mark 60 years of diplomatic relations in July. Those relations have seen a gradual improvement in the past few years, with the resumption of direct aid, including military aid, in 2006, and the establishment of a legal attaché in the US Embassy in Phnom Penh in 2007.

Relations were strained, however, in December 2009, when Cambodia deported 20 Uighur asylum seekers, in what rights workers fear will mean their persecution in China. The US canceled the delivery of 200 military trucks earlier this year as a result.

Meanwhile, Cambodia still would like the US to forgive about $300 million in debts from the 1970s, though the US has so far not agreed to the prospect.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Tuesday the minister was happy Clinton “recognized the progress and reality in Cambodia.”

Impact of Cambodia Mines in UN Exhibit

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An exhibition on the effects of land mines and unexploded munitions in Cambodia wrapped up at the UN in New York Monday, having displayed some of the country’s achievements in both demining and art.

Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer | New York
Monday, 12 April 2010

Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Cambodian deminer shows demining equipments during a hand-over ceremony of them from Japanese government in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

An exhibition on the effects of land mines and unexploded munitions in Cambodia wrapped up at the UN in New York Monday, having displayed some of the country’s achievements in both demining and art.

The exhibit, “Impact,” was meant to raise mine awareness as well as highlight Cambodia’s achievements in dealing with the remnants of conflict.

“Ten years ago, Cambodia was known as one of the most affected countries in the world, and now people look to Cambodia as one of the global leaders in mine action,” Alex Hiniker, the main organizer of the exhibit, told VOA Khmer.

Cambodia was once littered with mines and ordnance from decades of war, where peace came only as recently as 1998. Clearance efforts have reduced the number of deaths dramatically, down for example from 450 in 2006 to 243 in 2009.

The country’s deminers now contribute to UN peacekeeping operations in places like Sudan.

“Impact” showcased the work of 10 Cambodian artists, including one woman, who met with villagers in mine-affected areas and places that had been cleared of mines and ordnance. They spoke to survivors of explosions, deminers and others, before creating paintings and sculptures for the exhibit.

One painting, “Aphorp,” depicts a wild cow with a broken leg standing amid barbed wire and mines.

“This painting is about the disaster caused by land mines, or the impact they have,” the creator, Srey Bandol, told VOA Khmer by phone from Phnom Penh. “The script on the mines, which says, ‘China,’ ‘US,’ and ‘USSR,’ represents countries from where [the mines] are imported.”

Srey Bandol also painted “Chhai You,” or “Success,” which depicts the work of demining agencies like the Cambodian Mine Action Center, the Mine Advisory Group and the government’s Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority.

Artist Chhon Dina contributed a sculpture called “This Shattered Life is Also Your Problem.”

“I made this sculpture from ceramics and iron,” he told VOA Khmer. “The bottom part is a defused mine. I made this sculpture to represent how it affects the mind of mankind—so landmine producers should stop producing them and peace should prevail.”

Suos Sodavy created a work featuring businesses that have arisen on land cleared of mines: a motorcycle repair shop, hair dresser, bakery furniture store and restaurant.

Hiniker said the exhibit was a chance for artists to share their work, “so that people know that Cambodia is not just a country affected by landmines, it’s a country with a thriving arts scene.”

Security Stepped Up for New Year Celebrations

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Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday ordered provincial and municipal governors to speed up security preparations for the New Year, as Cambodia prepares for the Year of the Tiger.

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Monday, 12 April 2010

Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Armed Cambodian police patrol Phnom Penh.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday ordered provincial and municipal governors to speed up security preparations for the New Year, as Cambodia prepares for the Year of the Tiger.

During the holiday, Cambodians travel from Phnom Penh and other cities to their homes in the provinces, where they spend three days or more in revelry, in hopes of welcoming a year of prosperity and happiness. But it can also be a dangerous time.

“We must suppress the use of illegal weapons and explosives that can be dangerous to society,” Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told VOA Khmer Monday.

“The Ministry of Interior issued advice to the provincial and Phnom Penh governors to increase protection and ensure security and make good arrangements for public order,” Khieu Sopheak said.

The New Year holiday should be a time of fun, “without trouble from gangsters,” he said.

Phnom Penh will deploy thousands of police to patrol the streets and maintain safety where locals congregate to play traditional games around the city, Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naroth said.

“We must prevent young gangsters from troubling the popular games during the Khmer New Year,” he said. “We will particularly prevent various offenses, like cases of thievery, pick-pocketing, robbing travelers, other robberies and murders, as well as traffic incidents.”

Sarth Nady, chief of Siem Reap police, said local forces had been sent to popular sites like Angkor Wat, Baray Tek Thla reservoir and Phnom Kulen mountain.

“We have 1,000 policemen, including secret forces, protecting the safety of people,” he said.

Global Witness Lambastes PM Over Logging

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The April 6 firing of the government’s top forestry official by Prime Minister Hun Sen was not enough to ensure the safety of Cambodia’s remaining timber, the resources watchdog Global Witness says.

Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Monday, 12 April 2010

Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Cambodian carpenter loads his cart with lumber at a lumber yard in the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The April 6 firing of the government’s top forestry official by Prime Minister Hun Sen was not enough to ensure the safety of Cambodia’s remaining timber, the resources watchdog Global Witness says.

In a statement following the public sacking of Ty Sokhun, the director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s forestry department, Global Witness said broader measures are needed to protect what is left of the nation’s forests.

“The idea that Ty Sokhun has been removed from his post because of a failure to crack down on illegal logging is laughable,” Global Witness Director Simon Taylor said in an April 7 statement. “His status as protector of Cambodia’s forest was already stretched beyond credibility. If this move was really about that, then he should have gone years ago.”

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that Cambodia lost 29 percent of its primary forest cover between 2000 and 2005. Ty Sokhun was made director of the forestry administration in 1998 and held the post for 12 years.

UK-based Global Witness was once a forestry consultant to the government, but it was fired in 2003 and kicked out of the country in 2005 after publishing sensitive information on the timber trade.

The international award-winning group issued a report in 2007 claiming the country is run by a “kleptocratic elite” and that its “most powerful logging syndicate” was led by relatives of the premier. The Cambodian government banned the report, “Cambodia’s Family Trees.”

Global Witness said in its statement that Ty Sokhun and Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun “sold off 500 or more jobs in the Forest Administration.” Both officials have denied such reports.

Global Witness also said last week Ty Sokhun’s father-in-law is a “key member of Cambodia’s biggest illegal logging syndicate.”

Ty Sokhun and his replacement, Chheng Kim Sum, both declined to comment on the statement.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said officials will ignore the statement, which he called an attack on the Cambodian government.

Ty Sokhun was fired last week as part of an ongoing government crackdown on logging, but environmental groups say more needs to be done.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Ty Sokhun’s firing was a new step in the timber crackdown, but he said the government needs to undertake more, similar actions.

Thailand: Ruling Sets Stage for New Elections

Anti-government supporters attend a funeral procession on Monday April 12, 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand. Red Shirts protesters paraded coffins and portraits of victims through the Thai capital Monday following a weekend of savage street fighting. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

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Election Commission Says Governing Party Must Be Dissolved - an Apparent Victory for Red Shirt Protestors

Thailand's Election Commission ordered the ruling party be dissolved for allegedly misusing campaign donations, in a potential victory for protesters who paraded slain comrades through Bangkok on Monday to demand the prime minister's resignation.

The decision, which must be endorsed by the Constitutional Court to take effect, came soon after Thailand's influential army chief appeared to back the protesters call, saying new elections might be needed to resolve the country's political crisis. The standoff descended into the deadliest political clashes in nearly two decades on Saturday, when 21 people died in clashes.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was largely seen as having the backing of the powerful military, has remained defiant in his refusal to resign. But the about-face of the head of the army, which has not hesitated to stage coups during previous political instability, puts Abhisit under unprecedented pressure.

"If the issue cannot be resolved through political means, then Parliament dissolution seems to be a reasonable step ... I just want peace to prevail," army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda told reporters. Parliament's dissolution is a necessary step for new elections.

"Right now the circumstances dictate that a solution should be achieved through political means," he said.

The latest turmoil is part of a yearslong struggle for power, pitting the rural supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra against members of the country's traditional ruling elite, which includes business leaders, the military brass and bureaucrats - supported by the urban middle class.

Thailand has seen three governments in the four years since a coup drove Thaksin from power in 2006. Protesters have taken to the streets each time their rivals came to power.

In 2008, anti-Thaksin protesters besieged the government headquarters for months and occupied the airports for a week. The crisis was defused by a court ruling similar to Monday's that unseated the pro-Thaksin government. Subsequently, Abhisit became prime minister.

The repeated unrest has threatened to ruin the country's reputation as a stable haven for commerce, investment and tourism.

Monday's ruling could set the stage for another change in power. But it is unlikely to be the last word. It could offer a way out of the political deadlock between Abhisit's government and the Red Shirts, or it could fuel another round of counter-demonstrations by government supporters.

The Election Commission found the Democrat Party - Thailand's oldest - guilty of misusing campaign donations. No date was set for the Constitutional Court to hear the case.

Raucous cheers erupted at a major protest site when a speaker announced the decision to his audience.

"This is a victory for us. Our democracy heroes didn't die in vain," Veera Musikapong, a protest leader, said.

The Election commission was ruling on a complaint filed by the Red Shirts that the Democrat Party received more than 258 million baht ($8 million) in donations from a private cement company, TPI Polene, without declaring it, as required by law, and used it for election campaigning. The party was also accused of misusing 29 million baht ($800,000) from a political fund.

The commission had scheduled the ruling for April 20, but announced it more than a week early without explanation. It came on the eve of a four-day holiday for Songkran, the traditional new year when many urban Thais visit relatives in the countryside. Many people had feared that the festival - where people douse friends and strangers alike with water - would be marred by the political unrest and demonstrations.

If the party is dissolved, new elections would have to be called, and the prime minister and all the top executives of the party would be barred from politics for five years.

Unconfirmed reports in local newspapers have also said that Abhisit's coalition partners in the government want him to compromise with the protesters by dissolving Parliament in the next six months instead of by year's end, as he had earlier proposed. He must call elections by the end of 2011.

With the government under pressure, the Red Shirts struck a defiant tone Monday, parading coffins carrying slain protesters through the capital and saying they would not back down.

"Our position is clear. We want the Parliament dissolved now. The only way to solve this political impasse is for Parliament to be dissolve and new elections called," said Weng Tojirakarn, a Red Shirt leader.

The procession started at Phan Fa Bridge, located in the historic section of Bangkok that serves as one of the protesters' two bases. It then drove through the modern commercial heart of the city.

"These are the heroes of democracy," another protest leader shouted from a loudspeaker mounted atop a truck in the motorcade.

On Saturday, four soldiers and 17 civilians, including a Thomson Reuters cameraman, died in the clashes. More than 800 were wounded. Many of them were shot with live ammunition but it remains unclear who did the shooting. Each side accuses the other.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanyagorn said the military was under orders to fire live ammunition either into the air or in self-defense.

Autopsies on 11 bodies found that nine died of gunshot wounds and one from heart attack. The 11th was the Reuters cameraman, whose relatives asked that the results not be disclosed.

The unrest has shaken the country's economy, and stocks closed 3.6 percent down on Monday.

Thai poll body says ruling party must be dissolved

Anti-government "red shirt" demonstrators follow vehicles carrying the coffins of those killed during clashes with security forces two days earlier, as they protest through the streets of Bangkok April 12, 2010. Thai anti-government protesters gathered on Monday in Bangkok carrying coffins in memory of their comrades killed in clashes at the weekend in the country's most violent political protests in almost 20 years. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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By GRANT PECK, Associated Press Writer

BANGKOK – Thailand's coalition government teetered Monday after the Election Commission ordered the ruling party be dissolved for allegedly concealing campaign donations and the influential army commander said he supports a new vote.

The Election Commission ruling and the army chief's opinion buoyed anti-government protesters who have demonstrated for the past month pressing for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's resignation. The standoff turned deadly on Saturday when troops tried to drive away a large group of protesters, resulting in clashes that left 21 people dead in Thailand's worst political violence in nearly two decades.

Partner parties in Abhisit's government also suggested he consider calling elections earlier than the end of year, the timeframe he offered so-called "Red Shirt" protesters, who have insisted on a vote within 15 days.

Thanis Sriprathes, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission, told reporters Abhisit's Democrat Party was found guilty of failing to disclose — as required by law — that it received 258 million baht ($8 million) from TPI Polene, a cement producer listed on the Thai stock market.

A final decision on whether the Democrat Party should be dissolved, however, rests with the Constitutional Court. No date has been set to hear the case.

"This is a massive blow to the Democrat Party's legitimacy and suggests their wider alliance may just perhaps be starting to fragment," said Lee Jones, a lecturer in international relations at the University of London.

Abhisit suffered another blow when army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda told reporters dissolving Parliament and calling new elections might resolve the country's political crisis.

The army chief was until now seen as a staunch backer of the prime minister. The apparent about-face puts Abhisit under renewed pressure given the army is an influential force in the country's politics — and has not hesitated to stage coups during previous bouts of political instability.

"If the issue cannot be resolved through political means, then Parliament dissolution seems to be a reasonable step ... I just want peace to prevail," Anupong told reporters.

At loggerheads in the yearslong struggle for power are the rural supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the traditional ruling elite represented by Abhisit and his allies.

Abhisit's supporters include business leaders, the military brass, the judiciary and bureaucrats — supported by the urban middle class.

The root of the trouble goes back to 2006 when a coup drove Thaksin from power amid accusations of corruption. Thailand has seen three governments since then, but every administration has been dogged by street protests by rival groups.

In 2008, anti-Thaksin protesters besieged the government headquarters for months and occupied the airports for a week. The crisis was defused by a court ruling similar to Monday's that unseated the pro-Thaksin government. Subsequently, Abhisit became prime minister.

The repeated unrest has threatened to ruin the country's reputation as a stable haven for commerce, investment and tourism. The stock market closed 3.6 percent down Monday.

While the Election Commission ruling could set the stage for another change in power, it may not provide a permanent solution. There is also a chance that Abhisit's impending departure could fuel another round of counter-demonstrations by his supporters.

"While a dissolution of the Democrat Party may ease the current crisis, it can only be a temporary fix," said Tyrell Haberkorn, a researcher at The Australian National University in Canberra.

"The issues on which the current crisis turns — who can participate in politics and governance, who determines the meaning of justice, and what kind of speech is permitted — cannot be resolved in one fell swoop," she said in an e-mail interview.

Raucous cheers erupted at the main protest site when Veera Musikapong, a protest leader, announced the Election Commission's decision. "This is a victory for us. Our democracy heroes didn't die in vain," Veera said.

If the Democrat Party is dissolved, new elections will be called and the prime minister and top executives of the party will be barred from politics for five years.

The commission was scheduled to unveil its ruling on April 20, but announced it more than a week early without explanation. It came on the eve of a four-day holiday for Songkran, the traditional new year when many urban Thais visit relatives in the countryside. Many people feared the festival — where people douse friends and strangers alike with water — would be marred by the political unrest and demonstrations.

Earlier Monday, the Red Shirts paraded coffins carrying slain protesters through the capital saying they would not back down.

"Our position is clear. We want the Parliament dissolved now," said Weng Tojirakarn, a Red Shirt leader.

___

Associated Press writers Kinan Suchaovanich, Thanyarat Doksone, Vijay Joshi and Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.

Abhisit Vejjajiva comes under renewed pressure to quit


(David Longstreath/AP)
The funeral is held of an anti-government protester killed during clashes with Thai soldiers

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From Times Online
April 12, 2010

Richard Lloyd Parry, Bangkok

Thailand’s Prime Minister came under intense pressure to quit today, as political and army leaders wavered in their support and post-mortem examinations of the bodies of dead anti-government protesters confirmed that they were killed by military weapons.

In the grimmest day of a turbulent year and half in power, Abhisit Vejjajiva was also threatened with the dissolution of his party and a five-year ban from politics.

However, he gave no indication that he was ready to step down now, suggesting that the political confrontation that has paralysed parts of Bangkok for a month will continue.

Anti-government Red Shirt protesters paraded through Bangkok today with the bodies of two of their 16 comrades who were killed on Saturday when soldiers attempted to disperse them from one of their vast encampments.

Meanwhile, post-mortem examinations appeared to contradict the Government’s claim that they were not killed by soldiers.

Autopsies carried out at the Police General Hospital in Bangkok showed that nine of those examined were shot by high velocity weapons in the head, chest or stomach – confirming the impression given by video footage, which shows one unarmed protester dropping to the ground after being struck by a bullet which removed the top of his head.

A Japanese cameraman, Hiro Muramoto of Reuters, also died after being shot in the chest.

In a televised address, Mr Abhisit accused “terrorists” of inciting the violence and denied that there were divisions over how to restore law and order.

“The Government is unified and determined to solve this problem,” he said.

However, the indications are that the Prime Minister has been gravely, and perhaps terminally, damaged by the botched operation, which has humiliated his army and redoubled the determination of his political enemies.

“It should never have happened like this,” Sunai Phasuk, of Human Rights Watch, said. “Sending in soldiers rather than police is a problem to start with. But sending them in with live ammunition is always going to make it worse.”

The command post of the advancing soldiers was hit by a volley of M-79 rocket-launched grenades, killing one colonel and seriously injuring two others and one general.

The Red Shirts insist that this, too, was the work of shadowy dark forces, rather than their members.

Queen Sirikit and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn attended funeral ceremonies for the dead colonel tonight, suggesting that the monarchy is behind the Army.

But Thailand’s most senior general hinted at the resentment felt by some of the armed forces.

General Anupong Paochinda, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, said that the solution to the stand off had to be political, not military, and expressed support for the principal demand of the Red Shirt protesters – the dissolution of Parliament and an early election.

“If the issue cannot be resolved through political means, then Parliament dissolution seems to be a reasonable step,” he said. “If people want a government of national unity, then by all means, go ahead. I just want peace to prevail.”

The Bangkok Post reported that members of Mr Abhisit’s own ruling coalition, apparently in the absence of the Prime Minister, met on Sunday to discuss the possibility of agreeing to elections in six months’ time in the hope that this will take the heat out of the demonstrations.

But the matter may be forced before then by today’s ruling by Thailand’s Election Commission.

It orders the dissolution of Mr Abhisit’s Democrat Party, and the automatic disqualification of its leaders form politics for five years because of an undeclared 258 million baht (£5.2 million) donation received from a cement company.

The decision must be confirmed in court, which may take several months. But if it is upheld it will bring an abrupt end to Mr Abhisit’s political career.

Cambodia rice output rises


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April 12, 2010

PHNOM PENH (Commodity Online) : Southeast Asian nation Cambodia said its rice production registered a marginal increase during 2009-10 farm year.

According to an Agriculture ministry report, the country produced 7.58 million tonnes of paddy during the period, an increase of 5.7 percent over last year.

The country grew 2.33 million hectares of rice, yielding 6 million tonnes of paddy in the wet season, and 380,000 hectares for 1.58 million tonnes of paddy in the dry season.

The Ministry of Agriculture said Cambodia could have 3.5 million tonnes of paddy left over for export, a 10.75 percent rise on the 3.16 million tonnes left over last year.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said this year’s success in paddy output helped ensure food security and lessen the impact of the global economic crisis.

Cambodia plans to raise yields to as much as 3 tonnes per hectare by 2012 to increase exports of processed rice to international markets.

The Ministry of Agriculture said Tuesday that Cambodia could have as much as 2.24 million tonnes of rice for export, after farmers brought in 2.83 tonnes of paddy per hectare this year.

In the farming year 2008-09, Cambodia grew 2.61 hectares of rice, an average paddy yield of only 2.74 tonnes per hectare.

The Supreme National Economic Council said last month that Cambodia could produce as much as 15 million tonnes of rice paddy, leaving 8 million tonnes for export.

However, rice millers and other industry insiders say the quality of processed rice remains low, keeping Cambodia out of a market that has proved lucrative for neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand.

FINAL WISH: A Central Iowa woman battling cancer is reunited with her Cambodian sisters

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Elizabeth Klinge Reporter
April 12, 2010

Moving to Des Moines twenty years ago, Darlene and Sears Son wished for a new life. They'd escaped war in their native countries of Vietnam and Cambodia. But ten years ago another battle began against the cancer invading Darlene's body.

"The nurse, right now, they come in every day," said Sears Son, sitting at his wife's bedside. Hospice of Central Iowa has been helping the family prepare for the end.

"Part of what the social worker does on the hospice team is explore what might give them joy or peace," said Debra Erickson with Hospice of Central Iowa. For Darlene, it was the family she'd left behind to come to the U.S.

Through donations, Hospice of Central Iowa is able to help some patients in need each year with a final wish -- an outing with loved ones or a visit to the coast. A trip for three from rural Cambodia was a first. Still, the trustees felt this wish was special, said Erickson.

"I was pretty confident we could make it work from the foundation stand point. With the visas and the embassy and everything, I was more concerned about that," she said.

They cautiously started contacting embassy officials explaining the urgency of the situation. Six weeks and countless emails later, the news of Darlene's lifetime arrived. Her husband printed out the approval papers to show her. "She never let them leave from her hand at all," he said.

"It felt like she was deteriorating. But when she heard her sisters were coming it was like a new life went into her, and she was able to smile, and laugh, and talk," said Sarah Son, Darlene's daughter.

The sisters arrived in late March for a three month stay. They say they are thankful and want to be with her until the last minute.

"Mom's been waking up at like two in the morning. So she wakes up her sisters, and sometimes I hear them talking about everything that went on when they had been growing up and cute stories," said Sarah Son. Stories that they say will now end with a wish come true.

For more information about donating to Hospice of Central Iowa's Quality of Life Foundation, go to www.HospiceofCentralIowa.org