PM: Border Decision Eases Thai Standoff

Speaking Sunday on Apsara Radio, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the governments of Cambo­dia and Thailand have “reduced the misunderstanding [between the two countries] from 10 meters to 0.5 meters.”

On Friday hundreds of Cam­bodians swarmed across the border after checkpoints were re­opened for the first time since early this month. The closures caused millions of dollars in trade to be lost on both sides and some Cambodians reportedly had faced severe food shortages.

Hun Sen closed the border March 5 to Cambodians in retaliation to Bangkok’s refusal in the aftermath of the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots to allow its nationals to cross into Cambodia. But talks ensued, and the government has met conditions set down by Bangkok.

The prime minister said Sun­day that this was accomplished through decency and sincerity. “Both sides have [spoken re­spect­fully] as equals. We did not shake hands and then step on each other’s feet. We have done honestly,” he said.

Perhaps in response to some Sam Rainsy Party elected officials who had warned that the border closures would damage the livelihoods of residents along the border and possibly lead to starvation, Hun Sen said, “Now everything is solved. Do not let the opposition take advantage of our suffering.”

“We not only restored relations, but we considered how this friendship can become stronger,” he said.

According to the Bangkok newspaper The Nation, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shina­watra, speaking Saturday on his weekly radio broadcast, said that both Thailand and Cambodia would assign scholars to a re­search panel to set straight the history of relations between the neighbors. The Nation reported that the panel’s efforts would be an attempt to pre-empt future conflicts growing from old, inherited resentments.

The Jan 29 riots were provoked by baseless rumors that a Thai actress had claimed Angkor Wat as Thailand’s. In fact, past border encroachments have caused control of Cambodia’s most precious icon to go back and forth bet­ween the two nations over the centuries, with Thailand’s borders containing the famous temples as recently as 1947.

It is this sort of nationalistic rivalry that Thaksin apparently hopes to dispel. “We and Cambo­dia live on the same border so we should not harbor any ill-feeling toward each other,” he said.

Bangkok agreed to reopen its border with Cambodia on the condition that compensation was given for damage to the scorched Thai Embassy building. Phnom Penh paid out nearly $6 million last Monday.

On Saturday, The Nation re­ported that Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said other compensation claims already were being negotiated and that the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel’s claim had already been settled.

The Royal Phnom Penh was looted and entirely burned down during the riots.

“I cannot reveal the type and amount of compensation for the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel, but negotiations are under way for three major Thai companies and 10 smaller ones,” he said.

Of those claim negotiations, The Nation on Sunday quoted Thaksin as saying, “I urge Thai companies to understand that Cambo­dia is not a rich country and please do not demand over-compensation. Quote a reasonable price. Think of it as an encounter with an unfortunate incident.”

The Bangkok paper also reported that Thaksin urged his Thai citizens to avoid the casinos of both Cambodia and Burma. The seven casinos in the border town of Poipet have been losing between $7 million and $12 million a week since the border was sealed.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reported Sunday that just across the border in the previously bustling town of Aranyaprathet, markets had been empty and vendors nervous. According to Bam­rung Lochareonvatch­ana­chai chairman of the Sa Kaeo provincial trade council, the town was losing $1.4 million a day in revenue due to the border closure.

On Saturday, the first full day of the opening of the Poipet border crossing, traffic was light, with a few dozen Thais entering Cam­bodia and several hundred Cam­bodians making the reverse crossing, AFP reported.

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