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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai photo gaffe prompts exercise in damage control

Thai photo gaffe prompts exercise in damage control

As picture of a Thai reporter stepping near an image of the late King Father continue to speed across the internet, Cambodian and Thai officials have been scrambling to contain the fallout of a minor gaffe that has threatened to explode into a diplomatic incident.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday to stress that there had been no malicious intention, a government spokesman said yesterday, while officials in both countries have urged public restraint in recent days.

“The Thai prime minister talked to my prime minister,” said Council of ministers spokesman Phay Siphan.

“What we foster the most is good relations between Cambodia and Thailand. We shall not allow anyone to frame this as a problem between the two nations.”

On Wednesday, while reporting on the death of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, Thai Channel 3 correspondent Thapanee Eadsrichai was photographed with an image of the late King at her feet.

Within hours of the gaffe, the picture had shot across social networking sites, drawing ire from thousands who found the image highly offensive.

While Thailand rushed for damage control – an official apology was immediately issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the reporter twice publicly prostrated herself before an image of the late king, seeking forgiveness – the image has continued to spread.

Siphan said the government believed the response was the result of a “misunderstanding,” but remained concerned such reaction could be manipulated by those with ulterior motives.

“There is the opportunity for violence. So far, so good, that we [have been able to] control that,” he said.

In 2003, rumours that a Thai actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand incited an anti-Thai riot in Phnom Penh in which one person died and seven were injured.

The demonstration, sparked by news that turned out to be false, saw Thai-owned businesses looted and the embassy damaged. Hundreds of Thai nationals were evacuated, the borders temporarily closed and diplomatic ties downgraded after an incident that for years remained a low-point in Thai-Cambodian relations.

In a statement issued  on Thursday by the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, the body stated that the “news was manipulated by a group of the ill-will people and ultra-nationalists who posted it on Facebook”.

“[Cambodians] should not be misled by the fabricated, twisted and exaggerated news by a group of ill-will people and ultra-nationalists who are always attempting to create social instability, insecurity, political instability, especially by creating hostilities with neighbouring country so as to serve their political ambitions.”

In Thailand, a senior official at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology warned internet users against “liking” the photo on Facebook, saying that sharing it could be a violation of the country’s cyber laws, according to the Bangkok Post.

To contact the reporter on this story: Abby Seiff at abby.seiff@phnompenhpost.com

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