- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

BANGKOK, Thailand, Jan. 29 (UPI) — A chauvinistic remark attributed to a Thai movie star triggered a near breakdown in relations between Thailand and Cambodia Wednesday as a mob torched the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and Bangkok withdrew its ambassador from Cambodia.

Thousands of flag-waving Cambodian students broke into the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, setting the building alight and destroying nearly everything inside.

Thai Foreign Ministry officials said the Thai ambassador and his staff were safe Wednesday night, taking refuge at the Phnom Penh residence of the Thai military attach.

The anger of the Cambodians was triggered by a remark attributed to Thai movie and soap opera actress Suyanan Kongying. She was alleged to have said Cambodia should "give back" the 1,000-year-old Khmer temples of Angkor Wat.

Suyanan has denied making any such remark and has expressed sorrow over the anger the words attributed to her had caused among the Cambodian people.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is among the Cambodian leaders who have condemned Suyanan for her alleged comment about Cambodia's most sacred temples.

Although relations between the two countries had been cordial and both are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Thai and Cambodian people have a long history of bitter rivalry. Hostility has always bubbled just beneath the surface.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said Wednesday night that Thailand's ambassador to Cambodia was being withdrawn home to Bangkok and relations with the neighboring country were therefore downgraded.

"(Cambodian authorities) must arrest the offenders and express remorse, apologize and give us compensation" for the embassy attack, Surakiart said Wednesday night in televised remarks.

Earlier in the evening, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had put military commando units on alert and ordered them to stand by at Bangkok airport to fly to Phnom Penh to help restore order at the Thai embassy.

He called off the alert less than an hour later after receiving word from Phnom Penh that Cambodian police and military units had regained control of the Thai embassy from the rampaging mob.

Thaksin said he would decide on Thursday whether to close down the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok and send home the Cambodian ambassador.

After the Cambodian mob torched the Thai embassy, thousands more Cambodians attacked other Thai targets, including the Phnom Penh office of Shinawatra Communications, which is run by the Thaksin's family.

Local analysts expressed dismay at how quickly the historical rivalry between the Thai and Cambodian people had been stirred up by the alleged remarks of the Thai movie star.

Earlier this week the Cambodian government banned Thai films from Cambodian TV as a result of anger over the nationalistic remarks attributed to Suyanan.

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