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Cambodian Radio Station Owner Charged With Inciting Anti-Thai Riots - 2003-01-31

The owner of Cambodia's only independent radio station was charged Friday with inciting the violent anti-Thai riots that erupted in the capital earlier this week. Cambodia has taken full responsibility for the riots and is working to repair relations with its neighbor.

Mam Sonando of Beehive Radio FM 105 was charged with relaying untrue information and inciting discrimination and crimes, charges that combined carry a maximum nine-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine. He is accused of broadcasting false reports that Cambodians in Thailand had been attacked. The radio station owner denies the charges.

In the worse outburst of racism seen in years, hundreds of Cambodians took to the streets Wednesday, burning down the Thai embassy and attacking Thai-owned businesses, forcing hundreds of Thais to flee.

The rioting followed rumors published in local media that a popular Thai TV actress said Cambodia's famed Ankor Wat temple, one of Cambodia's most important cultural icons, should be returned to Thailand. The actress denies making the remarks.

No action has been taken against other media that published and broadcast the rumors. Mam Sonando is one of nearly 150 people who have been arrested in connection with the riots.

The rioting prompted the Thai government to downgrade diplomatic ties and suspend all economic cooperation. However, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Friday he welcomed a letter from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that said his government took full responsibility and will pay to repair the badly damaged Thai embassy in Phnom Pehn.

Mr. Thaksin said Cambodia expressed regret for the incident and vowed to prosecute the culprits. He said if Cambodia moved with speed and sincerity, relations between the two countries would improve soon.

Political analyst Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University said the two countries will probably normalize relations. "So far, it looks [like it] is improving in the sense that the Cambodian government is going to pay up," he said.

However, he warned that both nationalities will harbor resentment against one another for a while. "But of course the feeling, the bitter feeling, will still exist. That bitter feeling I don't think will cause any kind of negative relations for a longer period," he said.

Analysts and diplomats worry the mob violence will scare off foreign investment and tourists, two desperately needed sources of income for the impoverished nation.