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Thai Ambassador Returns to Cambodia - 2003-04-24

Thailand's ambassador has returned to the Cambodian capital - three months after relations were severely strained by anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh. Almost three months after the Thai ambassador to Cambodia fled his embassy over a perimeter wall in the face of angry rioters, Chatchavet Chartsuwan returned to Phnom Penh Thursday.

The embassy and some 30 Thai-owned businesses were pillaged on January 29 by angry Cambodian mobs. The riots were sparked when local Cambodian newspapers reported the unconfirmed, disparaging comments of a well-known Thai actress. Headlines claimed she disputed the ownership of Cambodia's prized national symbol - the temples of Angkor Wat.

Formal diplomatic relations were nearly severed by the incident. Ties began to be patched in March, when Cambodia paid Thailand $6 million in compensation for damage to the embassy and began negotiating payments for business damage. Relations were normalized earlier this month at a meeting between the Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers.

Thai Embassy staff members, who have been trickling back to Cambodia in the last week, greeted Ambassador Chartsuwan at Pochentong International Airport.

Some 20 police, military officials, and bodyguards of Prime Minister Hun Sen whisked the ambassador downtown. The embassy staff will live and work at the site of the former Japanese Embassy until the Thai Embassy is restored. Restoration work is slated to begin next month.

The ambassador told reporters he was glad to be able to come back to complete his mission in Cambodia, and called the events of January 29 the result of a misunderstanding that had been cleared. Mr. Chartsuwan also said he felt confident the Cambodian government could ensure his security in the future.