Seeking to clarify a remark that Thailand said was lost in translation, the Thai Foreign Affairs Min-istry sent a letter Tuesday to the Cambodian ambassador in Bang-kok denying their minister, Kasit Piromya, called Prime Minister Hun Sen a “gangster.”
The semantics flap began after Kasit Piromya was asked during a parliamentary debate last week in Thailand to retract his December comment in which he called the Hun Sen a “Nak Leng” or gangster.
Kasit Piromya instead rephrased his comment, reportedly saying that Hun Sen was a “suparb burut jai nak leng” or a gentleman who has the heart of a gangster.
But in a letter signed by Per-manent Secretary for Foreign Af-fairs Virasakdi Futrakul, Thailand denied that was the foreign minister’s intended description.
“Generally, when Thais want to use the word ‘Nak Leng’ to de-scribe a bully or a ruffian, they use the term ‘Nak Leng To’ or ‘Nak Leng Hua Mai’ as appear in this dictionary,” the statement read, referring to the third edition of the Thai-English Dictionary published by Amarin. “In this connection, were my Foreign Minister to imply any negative connotation of ‘Nak Leng,’ he would not have used it with the term ‘Suparb Burut’ or a gentleman.”
In fact, the letter continued, Ka-sit Piromya was flattering Hun Sen.
“Indeed, by describing his Ex-cellency Hun Sen as ‘Suparb Bu-rut Jai Nak Leng’, my Foreign Min-ister was complimenting His Ex-cellency Hun Sen as a big-hearted or sportsman-like gentleman.”
Koy Khuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry, said he had reviewed the letter and added that the ministry was examining the situation further before making any formal re-sponse to Bangkok.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is examining the real meaning of the word,” he said by telephone Wednesday.
“They say the word has many, many meanings.”
Some remained unconvinced.
“This word is an insult,” said Ros Chantrabot, vice president and professor at the Royal Academy of Cambodia. “It was a bad choice” of words.
Without a correction from Kasit Piromya, Hun Sen has said that he will not accept any visits from the Thai foreign minister and will not shake the minister’s hand on April 10 when the pair is scheduled to meet in Bangkok.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is also scheduled to make his first official visit to Cambodia on April 18 and meet with Hun Sen.