Minister Says Thai Trade Not Essential

The recent border limitations and closures by Thailand and Cambodia have continued to keep relations between the two countries poor, said Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh on Tuesday, adding that Cambodia does not need Thailand as a trading partner.

“Thailand did not allow Thai nationals across the border to Cambodia because they are afraid Khmer people might kill them or whatever. But they allow us to buy their products in Thai territory—we only go to them, but they do not come to us,” Cham Prasidh said.

“What we did and what we are doing today…depends on Thai­land—if Thailand does not walk back to us, we won’t walk back to Thailand,” he said.

Repeating previous claims by Prime Minister Hun Sen that the border closures and damaged political and economic ties be­tween Cambodia and Thailand will not seriously affect Cambo­dia, Cham Prasidh said the closure could be a “win-win” situation for both parties and that Cambo­dia could get any goods it needs from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

He said that all petroleum companies should start distributing to Pailin, Poipet, Battambang and Koh Kong—territories that could be hit by higher prices due to the border closure.

The flailing million-dollar casino industry, which was hit hard by the riots and the ban on Thai nationals entering Cambodia at the Poipet border crossing, is not a serious problem for Cambodia, Cham Prasidh said. He added that the Cambodian economy is not built on casinos.

[[Cambodia] is not Las Vegas,” he said, referring to the US gambling mecca in the state of Nevada.

Although Cambodia has not yet felt too much impact from the closures, Cham Prasidh said that the price of some consumer goods such as petroleum, vegetables and construction materials has increased in Banteay Mean­chey, Battambang and Oddar Mean­chey provinces and Pailin.

Cambodian and Thailand have suffered increasingly poor relations since the Jan 29 riots, during which the Thai Embassy and several Thai businesses were severely damaged.

On March 5, Cambodia sealed off its borders with Thailand in a retaliatory measure against Thailand’s order banning its citizens from crossing the border into Cambodia.

“Why should Cambodians cross the border to buy [products] from Thailand?” Cham Prasidh asked. “It is small-scale business, such as carrying goods.”

Cham Prasidh also denounced several alleged killings of Cam­bodians by Thais, saying that ordinary Thai citizens may kill Cambodians at the border.

“Our people were killed, they got shot after they crossed the border to Thailand—we are wondering why they went to Thai­land. Maybe just to buy motor parts. But they got killed,” Cham Prasidh said.

“Maybe [the alleged killers] could be grassroots people not happy with Cambodians for burning down their embassy—so if Prime Minister Hun Sen did not order the border closed, the Khmer people could be killed more.”

He added that the Thai anti-drug war could pose a problem for Cambodians as well, saying, “Khmer people could be killed for free like dogs by anti-drug [authorities], which just illegally charge Khmer people of drug smuggling.”

Cham Prasidh’s declarations came on the same day that the Thai Labor Minister declared that the Thai government would move to expel Cambodians living in Thailand.

The official, speaking on Thai TV Channel 5, did not specify whether Thailand would kick out Cambodians living and working illegally in Thailand or all Cam­bodians.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Saturday that he would order the Thai Labor Ministry to formulate stronger regulations on migrant workers, but did not single out Cambodian migrant workers.

(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)

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