Thailand re-opened border checkpoints to Cambodians Saturday, a week after they were closed in response to an outbreak of anti-Thai rioting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. But Thais are still prevented from traveling into Cambodia until their security in that country is assured.
Thousands of Cambodians rushed across re-opened border checkpoints Saturday to buy goods and necessities in Thailand, more than a week after Bangkok closed the border.
A large Cambodian population living near the Thai border relies on Thailand for basic necessities, and normally crosses the border with no trouble. Many Thais like to visit Cambodia's legal casinos, mainly Thai-owned, near the Cambodian town of Poipet, just across the border from the Thai town of Aranyaprathet.
Reopening the border to Cambodians was one step in the rebuilding of bilateral ties, which were sent tumbling when anti-Thai rioters burned the Thai Embassy and several Thai businesses in Phnom Penh. The physical damage was estimated at more than fifty million dollars, and Bangkok wants compensation from the Cambodian government.
The Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, told VOA that Phnom Penh's efforts to make amends had led to the decision to allow Cambodians into Thailand. "In light of the positive developments on the diplomatic front and because of humanitarian reasons we decided to allow Cambodians on the other side of the border to come across to buy and sell consumer products, so this would help alleviate the hardship that was caused by the temporary closure of the border after the incident," he said.
But Mr. Sihasak said Thais are still prevented from crossing into Cambodia until the overall security situation there improves.
The riots were triggered by a rumor that a Thai actress had claimed Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples belonged to Thailand. This was followed by a rumor that Cambodian diplomats had been assaulted in Bangkok. Both rumors later proved false.
Media outlets on both sides of the border have faced criticism for failing to dispel the rumors. Dozens of people have been arrested in Phnom Penh in connection with the riots, including the news editor of a local radio station that broadcast the rumors. The station has been taken off the air.
Mr. Sihasak said there is still more to be done by the Phnom Penh government. On the specific steps we still believe the Cambodian side has to address the question of the compensation and also on the question of the investigation as to the cause of the incidents and the arrest of all those involved," he said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has apologized to Bangkok and promised compensation, although a final settlement is still being negotiated.
On Monday, Thailand is to send a diplomat back to Phnom Penh. He will stay in temporary quarters until the embassy can be rebuilt.