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Cambodia, Thailand Reopen Border - 2003-03-21


Almost two months after anti-Thai riots in Cambodia nearly severed bilateral relations, the two countries have agreed to reopen their border to normal trading. Friday's agreement marks a major step toward full normalization of diplomatic ties.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Cambodian Senior Minister Sok An met Friday at the eastern Thai border town of Aranyaprathet. They agreed to reopen border checkpoints to revive severely interrupted trade.

But the ministers stopped short of restoring full bilateral relations, which were seriously damaged after January 29 riots in Phnom Penh led to the destruction of the Thai Embassy and several Thai businesses costing nearly $50 million.

Earlier this week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kept to a promise to repay almost $6 million for repairs to the Thai Embassy. Negotiations are still under way with the private companies whose buildings were destroyed.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkow, told VOA, progress in those talks and the compensation payment opened the way for the border to be reopened. "We thought it was timely to allow normal crossing between the border with Thailand and Cambodia, meaning that Cambodians can come across into Thai territory as usual, and, likewise, Thais can go over into the Cambodian side as usual," he said.

Thailand had called for a complete investigation into the riots, allegedly triggered by reports a Thai actress had said Cambodia's national treasure, the Angkor Wat temple complex, belonged to Thailand. More false rumors fueled the looting, which spiraled out of control.

After the riots, Thailand downgraded its relations with Cambodia to that of charge d'affaires. Mr. Sihasak tells VOA, there is no timetable at present to upgrade relations to that of ambassador.