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Thailand to Send Diplomat to Cambodia - 2003-02-05

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says Wednesday he will send a diplomat guarded by Thai commandos to Cambodia. Thailand's conciliatory gesture follows a downgrade in diplomatic relations with its neighbor after last week's anti-Thai riots in Phnom Phen.

Mr. Thaksin says Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged him by phone Tuesday to send at least a token presence to the Cambodian capital to show that not all ties between the two countries had been cut.

Mr. Thaksin agreed to send a charge d'affair only after Cambodia's foreign minister visited his Thai counterpart to apologize and take full responsibility for the riots. Cambodia also has promised to compensate Thailand for damages.

The worse race riots in years broke out when Cambodian media reported rumors that a Thai actress said Cambodia's most important national symbol, Ankor Wat temple, should be returned to Thailand. The actress denies making the comments.

The rumor infuriated a group of mostly young Cambodians, who began rioting, burning down the Thai embassy and damaging Thai-owned businesses. Thailand responded by downgrading diplomatic relations with Cambodia, ceasing all economic cooperation, and banning Cambodians from entering Thailand.

Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow said a team of Thais began an initial survey of the damages Monday. "So we're trying to come up with an estimate right now," he said. "After that we can start the process of discussion and negotiation with the Cambodian side on compensation for the damages."

Initial estimates put the damage at more than $42 million.

Mr. Thaksin says Thailand's diplomat will be guarded in Phnom Pehn by Mr. Hun Sen's own security staff in addition to Thai commandos. Mr. Thaksin says Thailand is also considering reopening border trade with Cambodia.