Thailand Suspends Aid Amid Bangkok Protests

BANGKOK- The Thai government suspended most diplomatic relations and aid to Cambodia on Thursday as more than 1,000 angry Thais swarmed in front of the Cambodian Embassy here, protesting Wednesday’s rioting and looting of the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.

Thailand has downgraded diplomatic ties to the charge d’affaires level; stopped all trade, educational and cultural relations; and ceased agricultural aid to Cambodia, according to an official in Thailand’s Office of the Gov­ernment Spokesman.

The mostly peaceful protest in Bangkok, in which Thai nationals waved small Thai flags and signs bearing slogans such as “Cambo­dia Go To Hell,” climaxed late in the day when unruly demonstrators tore the Cambo­dian crest from the wall of the embassy to the cheers of the crowd.

One Thai police official at the scene said that the Cambodian ambassador and all embassy staff had left the premises.

“All [Cambodian] embassy officials have gone home,” said Colonel Wanid Suiapolchai of the Northern Traffic Division. This could not be confirmed by officials, and repeated calls to the embassy were not answered.

“The fight is not just about the Thai Embassy [in Phnom Penh] being burned. It is about the picture of our King which was damaged—that is why we are not happy,” said Serm Sak, the chief inspector of Bangkok’s Northern Traffic Division.

Photocopies of a picture that appeared to show a Cambodian woman stomping on a picture of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej Wednesday outside the Thai Embassy were distributed throughout the Bangkok crowd.

“We want to show [Thailand] and the world that Cambodia is very rude,” Serm Sak said. “We have given a lot of money to Cambodia and try to take care of them, and now we feel like we have been betrayed.”

It was a rare plea from the Thai King, distributed to the crowd by a senior police official, that caused the mob to disperse, Agence France-Presse reported. Before leaving, protesters sang the Thai national anthem, AFP reported.

On Thursday morning, Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand Ung Sean was called to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive a memorandum demanding that the perpetrators of the riot be brought to justice and the estimated $24 million in damages be repaid, a Thai official said.

The memorandum specifically complained the Cambodian government had “either professed helplessness or merely indicated seeming indifference at the acute plight of our diplomatic mission” during the turmoil, AFP reported.

Thailand had demanded and received a personal apology from Prime Minister Hun Sen, which the official called “a start.”

Asked who was to blame for the events, the Thai official said, “We are not pinpointing anyone…. We are waiting to hear from the Cambodian government.”

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he wanted the culprits in the embassy attacks extradited to face trial in Thailand, where they could face life imprisonment, AFP reported.

“It’s very likely that the perpetrators could stand trial in Thailand because the incident happened on the Thai Embassy premises, but it also occurred on Cambodian soil,” he told reporters.

“It would depend on the cooperation of the Cambodian government on whether they wanted to extradite them here or not, but I personally want them to face trial here.”

The Thai Foreign Ministry summoned all Asean ambassadors to Bangkok to explain the incident and clarify Thailand’s stance, AFP reported.

“Although we have retaliated with the strongest diplomatic measures I believe it will not affect relations among members of Asean,” in which the two countries are both initiated, Thaksin said.

The premier blamed the incident on domestic politics ahead of national elections in Cambodia scheduled for July.

“Thailand was a victim of Cambodian domestic politics,” he said.

Thailand is hopeful that a resolution can be reached, the Office of the Government Spokesman official said. “We have lived together for a very long time, and we are going to have to continue living together.”

Cambodian protesters stormed the Thai Embassy and looted Thai-owned hotels and businesses in Phnom Penh late Wednesday, sparking one of Bangkok’s most serious diplomatic incidents in years.

Cambodians were angered by alleged comments by popular actress Suvanant Kongying that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.

Suvanant Kongying, told AFP that she regretted the violence.

“I reconfirm that I did not say anything that was reported in the Cambodian newspapers even though they quoted my name in the reports,” a sobbing Suvanant said. “I watched the television news about Thais being injured which made me feel really bad… This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me apart from losing my dad last year.”

Bangkok-based companies whose offices in Cambodia had been damaged would not comment on Thursday.

An official from the Siam Cement Corporation, who identified himself only as Rajchatanant, said it was company policy not to discuss the current situation in Cambodia. An official with the Samart Corporation, identified as Suwana, did not return calls made to the Samart office.

 

 

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