Thailand accepts apology for riots as damage assessment begins

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Relenting on an earlier decision, Thailand's king granted an audience Tuesday to Cambodia's foreign minister, who is on a delicate mission to placate the neighboring country after last week's anti-Thai riots in the Cambodian capital.

In a further sign of conciliation, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra accepted a letter of apology from his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen, but cautioned that relations between the two Southeast Asian nations will not return to normal quickly.

"The first step is that the Cambodian government has expressed sincerity to apologize for what happened," Thaksin told reporters, adding that he was satisfied with the apology "to some extent."

The apology letter was delivered by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong who later drove to King Bhumibol Adulyadej's palace in the beach resort of Hua Hin to deliver a letter from Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk.

Both kings are constitutional monarchs and are greatly respected by their peoples. Bhumibol's views also are considered with respect by the Thai government.

The government had said earlier that the king was too busy to meet with Hor Namhong, but Thaksin announced Tuesday that an audience has been granted. The contents of Sihanouk's letter were not disclosed.

Cambodia has arrested 57 people in connection with the riots, including two journalists who have been charged with inciting violence by spreading false information. The others have been charged with looting.

The riots began after Cambodian media wrongly quoted a a Thai actress as saying the famous Angkor temples, Cambodia's national symbol, should belong to Thailand.

Angry Cambodians torched the Thai Embassy and several Thai-owned businesses, causing an estimated $46.5 million in damage.

Thailand responded by downgrading diplomatic relations, closing its borders with Cambodia and suspending economic aid.

The Thai prime minister said he gave Hor Namhong a message for Hun Sen: "I sympathize with what happened and thank you very much for responding like a gentleman."

However, normalization of relations "has to be taken step by step according to the sentiments of the people," he said.

Meanwhile, a 30-member Thai delegation of government and business officials toured the gutted Thai buildings in Phnom Penh.

Among the worst-hit properties were two Thai-owned hotels and the offices of two cell phone network companies, one of them partly owned by Thaksin's family.

Hun Sen has been partly blamed for the riots because he publicly criticized the Thai actress, giving credibility to the reports.

Hun Sen denied the allegation and said Monday that the violence was part of a plot by an extremist group -- which he did not identify.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: