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Thailand Evacuates Its Citizens From Phnom Penh - 2003-01-30

Thailand has evacuated several hundred of its citizens from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, after a night of rioting destroyed the Thai Embassy and several Thai-owned businesses. Thailand has severed economic and technical links with Cambodia in response to the attacks.

Early Thursday, four Thai military transport planes evacuated up to 600 Thai nationals from Phnom Penh.

In addition, Bangkok on Thursday cut most economic and cultural links with Phnom Penh. Thais are significant investors in Cambodia and Bangkok is one of the country's largest aid donors.

Thailand also is barring Cambodians from entering the country.

The violence Wednesday was triggered by reports in Cambodian media that a Thai actress had said Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple complex had been stolen from Thailand. The actress has denied making the comment and there are reports the story may have been falsified.

Thailand's ambassador to Phnom Penh, Chatchawed Chartsuwan, says he barely escaped from the mob of almost 1,000 protesters as they stormed the embassy Wednesday.

"Because the mob came in so fast, I myself had to climb the fence behind the embassy compound," he said. "We were lucky that some Thais brought some vehicles that took us to the hotel." The embassy was ransacked and set alight, but officials say all the staff escaped uninjured.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called the violence "very regrettable" and a "loss" to the nation and Cambodian people.

Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra condemned the attacks and has called for a complete explanation and compensation for the damage.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry has ordered the Cambodian ambassador to leave. On Thursday more than five hundred Thais gathered outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok to protest the violence.

In Phnom Penh, a research company executive, Tim Smyth, says the damage from the rioting is severe. Mr. Smyth says the atmosphere has calmed but tension remains.

"The situation is that it's obviously a lot more calm than it was the last 24 hours," he said. "There is still quite a bit of tenseness in the air and as late afternoon sort of comes in there's a fear that things might flare up again. But most of the damage seems is done that could has been done."

He says for investors and foreigners the outbreak of violence will only add further uncertainty ahead of national elections due later in the year.