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Thai King Urges Reconciliation with Cambodia - 2003-02-11

Thailand's king has called on the government to mend relations with Cambodia, which were nearly severed after recent anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh. The request came after King Bhumipol Adulyadej received a message from Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk.

The communique from Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk to King Bhumipol Adulyadej expressed deep sorrow for the violence of January 29 and a desire to rebuild relations.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who revealed details of the communique, quoted King Bhumipol as saying the government should take the apology into consideration in rebuilding ties.

The revered king often has played a key role in bringing stability in times of crisis in Thailand. He carries great influence although he remains largely detached from daily political life.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the communique is part of a series of efforts by Cambodia to repair relations.

"The Foreign Minister of Cambodia handed over to the Prime Minister [of Thailand] a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen expressing regret and apology for the incident, and it's also in this context that the message from His Majesty King Sihanouk to his Majesty the King of Thailand is significant because it was in the context of the efforts of the Cambodian side to address and to repair what has happened," he said.

Mr. Sihasak said steps toward rebuilding relations are moving in a "positive direction," with the reopening of the Thai border to Cambodians last weekend. But Thais are still prohibited from traveling to Cambodia because of security concerns.

The rioters sacked and burned the Thai Embassy and several Thai businesses, leaving a repair bill estimated at more than fifty million dollars.

The embassy has reopened in temporary offices in Phnom Penh, overseen by a charge d'affaires, not an ambassador.

The violence followed unfounded rumors that a Thai actress had said Cambodia had stolen its national icon, the Angkor Wat temple complex, from Thailand. The actress has denied making the comments.

Cambodian authorities have arrested dozens of people for the riots and closed a radio station as it tries to undo the damage to Phnom Penh's reputation.

The Phnom Penh governor has been removed from his job because of the riots.

Mr. Sihasak at the Thai Foreign Ministry said further progress on normalizing ties now depends on Cambodia addressing Thailand's specific concerns, especially compensation for the damage.