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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai 'gangster' insult a matter of definition, say Bangkok officials

Thai 'gangster' insult a matter of definition, say Bangkok officials

Thai foreign minister says he intended to praise Hun Sen as ‘sportsmanlike" and "big-hearted".

PRIME Minister Hun Sen lashed  out at Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya for allegedly branding him a "gentleman with the mind of a gangster", as Thai diplomats scramble for their dictionaries, claiming the phrase was a routine compliment that was lost in translation.

"I am neither a gangster nor a gentleman, but a real man," the prime minister said Tuesday during the inauguration of Samdech Hun Sen Quay in Preah Sihanouk province's Stung Hav district.

Hun Sen said the comments came to light in late March after lawmakers belonging to Thailand's opposition Puea Thai Party showed parliament video footage of Kasit referring to Hun Sen as a "gangster", during which Kasit amended his phrase to "gentleman with a mind of a gangster".

"If you used such language with other countries ... your country would drop down to a cheap status," said Hun Sen.

"If I insulted your king and queen, what would you say? If I insulted your prime minister or your ancestors, what would you say?"

Hun Sen also said he had an electoral mandate and requested the Thai government to respect the dignity of his office as the legitimate leader of Cambodia. "I am not angry with you, but you must use dignified words ... with other state representatives," he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman of the Council of Ministers, agreed that the Thai foreign minister, as a professional diplomat, should not use such words to refer to the prime minister of another nation. "[Hun Sen] is an elected prime minister, and when he says things like this, it casts disdain on our nation," he said Tuesday.

A matter of semantics

But Thai officials have defended Kasit, saying the Cambodians mistakenly confused the Thai term nak leng - meaning "gangster" - with the phrase jai nak leng, which translates as "big-hearted", "generous" or "manly".

"Jai nak leng in Thai is a compliment, it is very positive," said Kamrob Palawatwichai, first secretary of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.

"A man who is responsible for his work is also called jai nak leng. My foreign minister ...  did not have any intention to mean it in a negative way."

In a letter to You Ay, Phnom Penh's ambassador to Bangkok, Thai Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Wirasakdi Futrakul claimed the term meant "big heart", and that if the term had been meant in a negative sense it would not have appeared next to the term suparb burut ("gentleman").

"My foreign minister was complimenting Hun Sen as a big-hearted or sportsmanlike gentleman," he wrote.

But Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that the Thai statements had not yet absolved Kasit of wrongdoing.

"We have not jumped to conclusions about the letter because we are examining how the meaning of the word changes from Thai language to English language," he said.

"We have not replied to the letter as well because we are waiting for a personal letter from Kasit to respond to what he said."

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