Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh on Thursday said the government could not stop protesters from destroying the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and vowed to start preventative measures against such protests.
His comments on Thursday follow a published report in The Nation newspaper, which reported that Tea Banh considered the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots his personal “failure” and that he shares some of the blame for the violent demonstrations that caused millions of dollars in damage.
“We could not prevent the protesters from destroying the embassy because they rushed into [the embassy compound]—we could not prevent them unless we killed them but we couldn’t do that because they are human beings,” Tea Banh said.
While he admitted to suffering greatly from the riots and its aftermath, he said “the next time, we have to prevent [the demonstrators] in the beginning, not just prevent at the time of the bursting.”
On Thursday, The Nation published an interview with the co-minister in which he took some responsibility for the riots.
“My failure to handle the anti-Thai riots that resulted in the ransacking of the Thai Embassy and Thai companies in Phnom Penh last month is the biggest defeat of my life,” The Nation reported Tea Banh as saying. “We should have tried harder to find the masterminds behind the leaflets so that we could tell what they were really up to.”
Tea Banh, a native of Koh Kong province and a Thai speaker, told The Nation that at the time of the riots he had thought an announcement by the Ministry of Information, denying that Thai actress Suvanant Kongying said Angkor Wat should be returned to Thailand, would be enough to quell the demonstrations.
He added that the government should have paid more attention to leaflets denouncing the Thai actress. The false rumors of Suvanant’s demand was the catalyst for the riots.
“We underestimated the situation,” Tea Banh was reported as saying. “Normally, such demonstrations in Cambodia gather or march in the morning and die down by the afternoon. We thought that the anti-Thai protest in front of the Thai Embassy would follow the same pattern.
“The riots lasted only a few hours, but it totally destroyed the two countries’ long-term relationship,” he was reported as saying.