More than 60 Cambodians clashed with police in Battambang province Tuesday before attacking a Thai-owned casino with stones and Molotov cocktails in reaction to Monday’s reported brutal beatings of two Cambodians in Thailand, according to provincial officials.
Twenty Cambodians were arrested in the fray, which began when the group attempted to force its way through a border checkpoint Tuesday in Kamrieng district’s Boeng Raing commune, deputy governor Ouk Vong said.
“The Thai border army informed our police that they should not allow the mob to move to the Thai border police checkpoint, so we tried our best to avoid a big dispute between our countries,” he said, suggesting the unrest had been planned in advance.
After military, municipal, district and immigration police used barricades to deter the rioters from crossing the border, the group turned its sights on the Sranasie Casino, believed to be owned by a Thai businessman, he said.
“Someone created this mob to destroy company property and hate Thais,” Mr Ouk Vong said.
Mr Ouk Vong declined to comment on who could have been behind the attack but said police are questioning the men. The masterminds will be brought to justice and the men educated, he said.
The rioters broke all the casino’s front windows and set a small fire that didn’t seriously damage the structure, he said.
The owner of the casino could not be reached for comment.
Two Cambodian border policemen were injured and one military police truck damaged, said immigration police chief Saom Sokun, adding the unrest shut down the checkpoint for the day.
Kamrob Palawatwichai, the first secretary at the Thai Embassy, said “the embassy is not aware of the situation and declines to comment at this stage.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said by telephone Wednesday that he was unaware of the clash in Battambang, but added that overall there are no tensions between the two countries despite the ongoing military standoff at Preah Vihear temple.
“In general we don’t have tensions between the two nations,” he said. “There are tensions between troops” at Preah Vihear temple, he added.
Early Monday during a New Year celebration on Thai soil near the Doung international checkpoint in the same district, several Thais allegedly used wooden sticks and wine bottles to beat two 23-year-old Cambodian males, said Chhem Kim Hong, Kamrieng district police chief.
That fight began after Thai youths threw traditional powder at some Cambodian women and tried to kiss them, raising objections from the women’s companions.
The two were brought to a Thai hospital before they returned to Battambang province, he said.
The beating sparked rage and calls of revenge among Cambodian men in the town by the next day, Mr Chhem Kim Hong said.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)