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Thailand to Reopen Border with Cambodia - 2003-02-06

Thailand will partially reopen its border with Cambodia on Saturday, after anti-Thai rioting in Phnom Penh led to a temporary break in relations between the two neighbors. Thai government is calling the move a humanitarian gesture for the hundreds of Cambodians who need to cross the border to buy food from Thailand.

Thailand says it will open checkpoints along its eastern border with neighboring Cambodia this coming Saturday, but the reopening will initially be limited to Cambodians, who need to cross into Thailand to buy food. Thais will still be prevented from crossing the other way into Cambodia.

The Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, had earlier indicated the checkpoints would be reopened Thursday, but officials said security reasons dictated a delay of several days.

Aswin Aphaiwongs, general manager of the Inter Hotel in Arayanprathet, a major town on the Thai side of the border, told VOA the people of the town had been informed the border would remain shut until the weekend. "Today the border is closed and according to the Government this morning [it] will reopen Saturday, this Saturday the 8th," he said.

Thailand severed links with Cambodia after last week's anti-Thai rioting in Phnom Penh, which led to the destruction of the Thai Embassy and several Thai businesses there. Thai officials estimate the cost of repair could reach $50 million.

The rioting was triggered by a rumor that a Thai actress had said Cambodia's national icon, Angkor Wat, belonged to Thailand. The situation was inflamed by another rumor, that Cambodian embassy staff in Bangkok had been assaulted. Both rumors later proved to be false.

An investigation into the riots has led to the arrest of dozens of Cambodians, including an editor of a Cambodian radio station that has since been taken off the air.

Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, apologized for the rioting and dispatched Foreign Minister Nor Ham Hong to Bangkok Tuesday to express his government's regrets.

The border closure has seriously affected cross-border trade, and has prevented Thais from visiting gambling casinos just across the line on the Cambodian side.

Mr. Aswin of the Inter Hotel says all Thai businesses in the area have been affected, with hotels losing patrons, including Europeans who travel across the border to visit Angkor Wat, in Cambodia's Siem Reap province. "[Besides] the hotels there are many [Thai] businesses affected there because everyday they export the goods from the Thai side to Cambodia, many, many, many millions of baht," he said.

But Thai officials say a further easing of border restrictions will only come after relations between the two nations improve, and Bangkok is satisfied with promises of Cambodian compensation for last week's damage.