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.
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
"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,"
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
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
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."