Thais Reject Hun Sen’s Blame for Dispute

Reacting to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s tongue lashing of Thailand on Thursday, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said full normalization of relations with Phnom Penh would depend on the speed with which Cam­bodia pays compensation for the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots.

The Thai deputy prime minister also rejected Hun Sen’s claims that Thailand was exploiting Cambodia economically or that the killing of Cambodian citizens on the Thai border was the reason behind Hun Sen’s move to seal the frontier, Agence France-Presse reported on Friday.

Chavalit said earlier that the pressure of “internal politics” in Cambodia had forced Hun Sen to close the border on Wednesday.

“If this is true, why have the Cambodians not protested since the very beginning of the incidents?” Chavalit said in response to Hun Sen’s claims that the border was closed because Thai forces had killed and wounded Cambodians.

He also said Thailand’s reopening of its borders to Cambodians after the Jan 29 riots was a hu­manitarian gesture. “We were not taking advantage by reopening our border checkpoints, we reopened for Cam­bodians to cross to buy stuff to relieve their suffering, please understand,” Chavalit said, according to AFP.

He also said the real reason for Hun Sen’s border closure was to force Bangkok to again allow Thai citizens into Cambodia. Thais have not been allowed to cross the border since the riots.

Permission allowing Thais to cross the border would likely take as much time as Cambodia will take to pay an estimated $54 million in compensation for damage done on the night of Jan 29, Chavalit added.

“We must proceed in steps… Are they starting to pay it?” Chavalit asked, referring to the issue of compensation.

On Thursday, Chavalit called on Cambodia to cooperate with Thailand to create regional security and solve their problems. He also said “internal political” were the root cause of Hun Sen’s decision to close the border.

“Internal politics was one of the main reasons…Hun Sen must be under intense pressure and decided to temporarily shut border checkpoints,” Chavalit said, according to AFP.

Foreign diplomats in Phnom Penh had expected a measured response from Bangkok to Hun Sen’s saber-rattling speech on Thursday in which he accused Thai forces of killing Cambodians without regret and treating Cam­bodian people as “beggars”.

Hun Sen declined to speak with reporters on Friday about the border standoff, however co-Defense Minister Tea Banh said no talks with Thailand are scheduled and border regions are calm.

Government officials in Ban­teay Meanchey and Koh Kong also reported the frontier was quiet in both provinces and no security re-enforcements have been deployed on either the Thai or Cambodian sides.

Responding to reports that Cambodian authorities may target Thai fishing boats entering Cambodian waters, Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phouthang said there were no such orders, but Cambodia was already vigilant about marine border incursions.

On Thursday, the Sam Rainsy Party blasted what it called Hun Sen’s “brinkmanship, immaturity and irresponsibility” in closing the border and called on “all responsible leaders” to force the annulment of the government’s closure decision.

The opposition said the closure will impact tens of thousands of poor Cambodians who earn their living trading and working along the Thai border. Tourism, the country’s fastest growing industry, would also be hit hard, the Sam Rainsy Party statement said.

A More far reaching consequence would be the impact on Hun Sen’s ruling CPP as the border closure will deepen internal divisions between pro-Thai and pro-Vietnamese factions, “which will aggravate instability,” the opposition statement said.

However, Hun Sen’s speech attacking Thailand apparently struck a chord with many Cam­bodians who remain resentful of their western neighbor and—in an inversion of blame—feel Cambodia was the party most injured by the Jan 29 riots .

Hok Sophea, 53, owner of a newsstand, said on Friday she supported Hun Sen because Cambodians had bowed their heads too many times.

“The temporary closure is to find the better resolution and equality of the two countries…. It is time to show the government is strong and we are not weak all the time,” Hok Sophea said, adding that both Cambodia and Thailand will lose as a result of the border closure. “But we don’t know who will lose the most,” she said.

Sisowath High School student Ly Bora, 17, said Cambodia would rely on products from other countries when stocks of Thailand goods were exhausted.

“The goods might come from Vietnam and China instead. The quality is the same as the Thai,” Ly Bora said.

(Reporting by Phann Ana, Lor Chandara and Kevin Doyle)

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