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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai ambassador: no hard feelings

Thai ambassador: no hard feelings

Thai ambassador: no hard feelings

thai.jpg
thai.jpg

Samnang, a talented four-year-old elephant at Phnom Tamao Zoo, paints for tourists in the run-up to Khmer New Year. Samnang, which means ëLuckyí, can be seen painting in his abstract style each weekend.

T

hailand's Ambassador, Chatch- awed Chartsuwan, was in a forgiving mood when he returned

to Cambodia on April 24, his first time back since he was forced to flee over the

back wall of his burning embassy compound in January. He told the Post he had resolved

to "let bygones be bygones".

Diplomatic ties between Cambodia and Thailand were shattered by the events of January

29 when the embassy and a dozen other Thai-affiliated buildings were burned and looted.

Bangkok evacuated its citizens, closed border crossings, and ordered the Cambodian

Ambassador, Ung Sean, to leave. On his arrival in Bangkok, Ambassador Chatchawed

told the media there that he was convinced that the violence was organized, not spontaneous,

and accused the Cambodian authorities of being slow to help.

But relations between the two countries have rapidly improved in the past month.

Ung Sean returned to his post in Bangkok on April 13, two days after government officials

agreed to normalize ties.

On his return Chatchawed said he held no grudges.

"I think that there was some misunderstanding and those misunderstandings have

been cleared up," he told the Post. "I'm glad to be back to finish my mission

as ambassador and strengthen ties between the two peoples."

One Phnom Penh-based diplomat said he was not surprised relations between the two

countries had normalized so quickly. He said the extension of the spat in March,

when land border crossings were closed to citizens, was done mainly to appease domestic

constituencies.

"If you read media reports you think they are about to go to war, [but] the

reality is never so seductive. Both sides are working very hard to make sure things

get onto an even keel," the diplomat said. "I think they are really bent

on trying now to educate the prospective public. Things are already back to normal."

Chatchawed explained that his return was slower than the Cambodian envoy's to Bangkok

because of Thai procedures. The Thai foreign ministry had to request cabinet approval,

which was not issued until April 22. The ambassador then stayed in Bangkok a further

day for talks between Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Cambodia's

Senior Minister Sok An.

That session revived discussions to establish joint cabinet meetings between the

two countries. The original plan to start those in April was postponed because of

the crisis in relations.

"We plan to have joint cabinet meetings either in late May or early June,"

Chatchawed said.

The purpose of the cabinet meetings was to strengthen bilateral ties, and it was

hoped the first one would provide a venue for the two countries to sign a memorandum

of understanding about labor and the prevention of trafficking of women and children.

Sok An told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport on April 23 that the main

focus of that day's talks was to set up a joint cultural committee to overcome misunderstandings

between the two nations.

"The committee will examine the contents of each country's history and culture

in order to avoid conflict by making sure of the truth," Sok An said. "Also

the committee will examine the contents of tourist guides about history and culture."

Chatchawed praised efforts by Phnom Penh to cooperate with Thailand. After the riots,

Thailand issued a statement that relations would not be normalized until damages

were paid, the events explained, and those who caused the violence brought to justice.

"They have been trying their best to clear up all misunderstandings and give

accurate information to the public that the rumors were false rumors," said

Chatchawed.

So far the nearly $6 million for damages to the Thai Embassy has been handed over.

A payment agreement has also been submitted for the razed Royal Phnom Penh Hotel,

but there has been little activity over the past two weeks to compensate other Thai

businesses affected to the tune of $50 million because of Khmer New Year.

"There's nothing new right now because we've had a long holiday," said

Prum Sokha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior and head of the commission

investigating damages to Thai businesses.

Sok An said he could not estimate when the affected companies would be compensated,

but confirmed they would all continue with their investments here.

"Both sides made an evaluation for the compensation committee and they were

satisfied," said Sok An.

The Ministry of Interior's General You Sun Long was initially made chief of the commission

to investigate the cause behind the riots, but said he was replaced by the deputy

director of the national police, General Neth Savoeun, due to his heavy workload.

When the Post spoke to General Savoeun on April 24, he said he could not comment

about the reasons behind the events as he was attending the ruling Cambodian People's

Party congress.

Chatchawed told the Post that an explanation for the events would likely come once

Cambodian and Thai authorities teamed up to investigate the matter.

"There will be a joint investigation, but it has not started yet," he said.

The matter of bringing those responsible to justice received a Royal response in

early February when King Norodom Sihanouk wrote that he believed that students jailed

on charges related to the riots were innocent. He declared that if the students were

convicted, he would give them amnesty.

Asked whether that would set back progress in Cambodia-Thai relations, Chatchawed

said: "That I don't know. At the moment I think this is an internal matter for

Cambodia. They have been imprisoned, but they have to be brought to court for deliberation."

But the diplomat speculated that an amnesty was not actually within the King's power

to grant. He said that for the students to be freed would require government cooperation

and he felt it was unlikely any political party would want conflicts arising in the

lead up to the general election.

"The King is the constitutional monarch, so if he pardons someone it's an agreement

of the government in part," the diplomat said. "For the King to give an

amnesty, it must be forwarded from the government. He merely signs the bill."

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