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Thailand, Cambodia Move to Mend Recently Strained Relations

Six weeks after anti-Thai riots in Cambodia destroyed Thailand's embassy, the two countries will begin talks to repair relations. Cambodia has paid Thailand six million dollars in compensation for the destruction of the embassy.

The decision by Thailand to hold talks marks a major step in the thawing of relations between Thailand and Cambodia. Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai says the bilateral talks will begin Friday in the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet about 150 kilometers east of Bangkok. The Cambodians will be represented by senior minister Sok An.

Anti-Thai riots in late January left one person dead, and caused millions of dollars in damages to the Thai embassy and Thai businesses in Phnom Penh.

During the weekend, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said his government had agreed to pay almost six million dollars to Thailand to repair the embassy, which was torched during the riots. Thailand's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkow, told VOA that the funds have been received.

"I just talked to the charge d'affair in Phnom Penh and he told me the amount of $5.9 million, which is the compensation for the damage to our embassy, has been transferred to the embassy's account already," he said.

Preliminary estimates for damages to Thai businesses are about $47 million. Separate talks are taking place to come to an agreement about compensating individual businesses for the damage caused by rioters.

The anti-Thai riots in Cambodia were sparked by rumors, later disproved, that a Thai actress had called for Cambodia's national icon, the Angkor Wat Temple complex, to be returned to Thailand. Other rumors, also false, of attacks on Cambodian officials in Bangkok fueled the hours of rioting.

The riots were the worst in recent decades and led Thailand to downgrade its relations with Cambodia. Thailand closed its border to Thais traveling into Cambodia.

Mr. Sihasak said the damage payment was the first step in the demands made by Thailand for a return to normalized relations. Other demands include a full investigation into the riots and the arrests of those involved.