Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Wednesday he was poised to reopen the Cambodian border and reinstate diplomats in Phnom Penh, but on condition that Bangkok’s representatives are initially protected by Thai commandos and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguards.
The Thai premier told reporters in Bangkok that Hun Sen had telephoned him several times on Tuesday urging the re-establishment of a Thai diplomatic presence to demonstrate that relations between the two countries were not completely severed after last week’s orgy of anti-Thai violence.
“Cambodia has assured us on security measures. Hun Sen will allow his own special guards to provide security for the Thai mission,” Thaksin was reported as saying by Agence France-Presse.
Thai security would also travel with the diplomats to ensure their safety in the early stages, Thaksin said, adding that the Thai mission will be temporarily housed at the former site of the Japanese Embassy, AFP reported.
The Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh moved from its old Norodom Boulevard location in March to a new embassy building with state-of-the-art security.
The old Japanese embassy—an aesthetically pleasing, colorfully painted, colonial-era building—was not up to Japanese security requirements introduced worldwide after the 1996 Japanese Embassy siege in Peru, an embassy official said on Wednesday.
However, neither Thai nor Cambodian officials have confirmed reports that the Thai delegation will take over the old embassy building, said Japanese Embassy First Secretary Yutaka Aoki.
“It’s a very, old building. But compared to normal buildings it has high walls and a police box,” he said.
The Thai delegation is expected to depart for Phnom Penh within a few days, said Thaksin, adding that restrictions on the Thai-Cambodian border would also be relaxed.
Thai government officials later said the border may be opened as soon as today.
“We will start easing the border measures step-by-step for humanitarian reasons, since their people on the border are very poor and are having a difficult time,” Thaksin said, according to Reuters.
Thaksin’s statement advanced somewhat the normalization of relations between the two countries, which kicked-off Tuesday with the delivery of an apology to Bangkok by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
However, a guarded Thaksin said after the meeting with the foreign minister that re-establishing ties would take a “step-by-step” approach.
The re-opening of the 840-km long border will ease the economic impact of last week’s riots on thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand who were forced to return home—and Cambodian traders on the Thai border.
Cambodia’s massive casino industry will also sigh with relief. The border closure reportedly shut six of the seven gambling dens in Poipet who closed their doors after the flow in Thai gamblers dried up.
Deputy Director of Information Department Khun Sambo said the casinos were closed temporarily. Staff were either on standby to resume work or had taken holidays to visit their homes in other provinces.
Prices of imported Thai goods had increased because of the border closure, but officials and locals in Poipet denied reports in the Thai media that Cambodian’s were short of food because of the border closure.
Thai English-language newspaper The Nation reported on Wednesday that Cambodians in the northwest were facing food and drinking-water shortages and that Thai border security was being boosted to prevent “hungry Cambodians” launching forays into Thailand to steal food—including pet animals.
The dubious reports included a reference to Cambodians slaughtering their pet dogs to make-up for the alleged shortfall in food.
Sorm Sophin, deputy police chief in Banteay Meanchey province’s O’Chrou district, said on Wednesday that laborers who earned a living in Thailand were forced to return to their home provinces.
But, locals were eating cheaply because—unable to export to Thailand—there was an over supply of fish and rice.
Chickens, fruit and vegetables—mostly farmed in Thailand—had increased in price. But Cambodian-sourced beef and pork had remained stable, said Sorm Sophin.
“What the Thais are saying is incitement and revenge for what happened in Phnom Penh. What I say is the truth. Come to Poipet and seen how the people live,” said Poipet resident Prak Samdara.
An Asian diplomat said on Wednesday that the continued closure of the border could have further inflamed Cambodian resentment toward Thailand.
Bangkok should move quickly to re-open the gateways as soon as possible, the diplomat said.
Battambang farmer Krok Chee said on Wednesday that the price of fish and rice had fallen because Thai markets were closed to Cambodian goods.
However, if the closure continued Krok Chee said he would not make any profit from the next year’s rice harvest.
“I am concerned because the price of rice will be cheaper. If the border is open my rice is expensive,” Krok Chee said.