The Thai Embassy asked the government Wednesday to stop the spread of newspaper articles that state a Thai professor has proposed Preah Vihear temple be handed back to Thailand to compensate for damages caused to Thai-owned businesses in last year’s anti-Thai riots.
A letter stamped “very urgent” and addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was sent Wednesday. It said articles that appeared in Tuesday and Wednesday’s Kampuchea Thmei Daily (New Cambodia) could “lead to misunderstanding between the people of the two countries.”
Last year’s anti-Thai riots were sparked by an unsubstantiated allegation, reported in Khmer-language newspapers and discussed on radio, that Thai actress Suvanant Kongying had demanded Angkor Wat be given to Thailand. The rumor was later proved false.
The Jan 29 riots caused about $54 million in damage to the Thai Embassy and Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh.
In March, $6 million was given to Thailand on the government’s behalf to repair the embassy. But the remaining $48 million that Thailand has requested has not been paid.
The embassy also sent a copy of the letter to the Ministry of Information.
Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state at the ministry, said the government would not act to curb the press. “In Cambodia, we have no law to ban anyone from writing news,” he said. “Nobody has reacted to this problem. The public knows the situation better…. Nobody cares about it.”
But he criticized Kampuchea Thmei Daily, which he said only wrote one side of the story and “did not perform professional ethics in news reporting.”
Like Angkor Wat, Preah Vihear was built by ancient Khmers. Both temples are national symbols for Cambodians, although they fell within Thai borders as recently as the early 20th century.
A dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the temple was settled by the International Court of Justice, which ruled in favor of Cambodia in 1962.