Thai Business Relations Upbeat Despite Unpaid Damages

The windows are blown out of the smoke-stained Cementhai SCT Cambodia office building on National Route 2. Clumps of broken glass fill the front walkway. Overgrown grass and shrubs surround the building. Wires hang aimlessly from the gutted ceiling. Rusted file cabinets lie strewn about the floor.

Across town, the Royal Phnom Penh hotel also looks like a bomb hit it. Past the high fence around the ransacked complex, a few construction workers sit near two charred cars. Piles of rubble litter the grounds. A once luxurious restaurant is now a field of dirt.

For these two businesses, as well as the 17 others damaged during the anti-Thai riots six months ago, not much has changed since Jan 29. While Cambodia paid about $6 million in compensation to the Thai government in March, the nearly $48 million bill to compensate Thai businesses remains largely unpaid.

Nonetheless, Thai businessmen say relations with Cambodia have improved and that they believe compensation will occur after the new government takes shape.

“We have to wait until after the election,” said Trairat Kaewkerd, general manager of the damaged cell phone service provider Cam­bo­dia Shinawatra Co Ltd, which re­paired the building with its own money. “The government said that everything was still in pro­cess. I believe the government will repair the damage.”

So far, the government has paid 30 percent of the total compensation owed to Thai businesses, according to a Ministry of Interior official close to the negotiations. He refused to give specific information about which companies it has paid or the total amount paid by the government.

Describing negotiations be­tween Cambodia and the damaged Thai businesses as “quite confidential,” an official with the Thai Embassy said five out of the 17 damaged businesses were compensated with a “satisfactory result.” Thai businessmen still see great opportunities for business in Cambodia, the official said, and have recently inquired about investing in Cambodia.

“In general, for Thais, we don’t feel that the riot would effect business,” the embassy official said. “The Cambodian government is quite sincere. The proof is that a number of companies have been compensated. We have a good precedent.”

Most damaged businesses spent their own money to relocate or renovate. While many Thai bus­i­nessmen say they be­lieve they will be repaid, they do not know how or when that will happen.

“I don’t know if I will see the money because I am not sure they are going to pay cash,” said Sak Chai, general manager of the Juliana Hotel, which has yet to receive compensation for about $600,000 worth of damage. “Diff­er­ent companies receive different arrangements. We were contacted by the Cambodian government three months ago but haven’t heard anything since. Many companies have the same problem of not being contacted.”

Cementhai relocated its offices in March to a Thai-owned building on Monivong Boulevard near Phsar Thmei after spending more than a month in a rented house immediately after the riots. Since the riots, Ce­men­thai Sales Rep­resentative Nou Netra said, Cementhai stopped offering clients credit, demanding that all transactions be completed with cash.

“If you compare things to last year, business is still bad,” Nou Netra said. “I don’t think there will be another riot. But we will not rebuild our factory until we get compensation.”

Other Thai businessmen in Phnom Penh say they are not bothered by the riots.

While conceding that fewer Thai goods are being sold in the markets compared to before the riots, Prakong Suk­sombot, general manager of the Thai-owned La Parranda Hotel, said Thai businesses are happy to be in Cambodia.

“Cambodians and Thais are like one big family and the riot was like an accident,” Prakong said. “We forget about that and everyone is happy to do business here.”

At the Ministry of Commerce, Funcinpec Secretary of State Khek Ravy said none of the trade agreements between Cambodia and Thailand have been canceled.

“We need the Thais,” said Khek Ravy, “and the Thais need us.”


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