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Cambodian Official Apologies to Thailand After Riots - 2003-02-04

A senior Cambodian official has apologized to the Thai government for last week's anti-Thai riots in Cambodia and promised to make amends.

Hor Namhong, Cambodia's foreign minister, delivered a letter of apology Tuesday from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen promising full reparations for the destruction of Thailand's embassy in Phnom Penh last week. The letter was delivered to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok.

After the incident, Bangkok downgraded diplomatic relations with Cambodia, suspended all economic aid, and banned Cambodians from visiting the country. The rioters burned the Thai embassy and destroyed several Thai-owned businesses in the Cambodian capital.

Thailand said the cost of damage from the riots amounted to more than $42 million, almost double its original estimate.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said the letter from the Cambodian leader was a step in the right direction. "Basically the Cambodian side said that they very much regretted the incident and expressed their apology and they were ready to assume full responsibility for what happened," said the Thai spokesman, "and they acknowledge the fact that it was misjudgment on their part, that the situation was allowed to get out of hand."

The riots followed reports in the local Cambodian media that a popular Thai actress had said Cambodia's famed Ankor Wat temple, which is an important national symbol, belonged to Thailand. The actress has denied she had said this, and no evidence has been found to support the rumors.

The riots and their aftermath brought relations between the two neighboring countries to their lowest point in modern times. After receiving the apology, Mr. Thaksin said it was important for the countries get their relationship back on track.

Mr. Sihasak, the Thai spokesman, said diplomatic relations would gradually be restored, but Cambodia must first deliver on its promises. "The fact the foreign minister was here underscored the regret of his government over the incident and also the fact that he gave his assurances that they would proceed immediately with actions. I think it's a step in the positive direction."

Mr. Namhong will also deliver a letter to Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej from Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk later Tuesday evening.