| Thai actress Suvanant Kongying whose alleged remarks on Angkor Wat sparked riots in Phnom Penh. (AFP)
Phnom Penh, Jan. 30 (Reuters): Military aircraft evacuated hundreds of frightened Thais from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh today after a night of riots in which the Thai embassy and businesses were torched.
The unexpected violence sparked a diplomatic storm, with Thailand closing its borders to Cambodians, recalling its ambassador to Phnom Penh and cutting economic and technical cooperation with its smaller Southeast Asian neighbour.
Bangkok also threatened to expel hundreds of thousands of Cambodians working illegally in Thailand. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said relations had dropped to a “level of concern”, as authorities in Phnom Penh said several hundred people had been arrested for the riots.
Phnom Penh was edgy but peaceful tonight. In Bangkok, however, angry crowds gathered at the Cambodian embassy, burning Cambodian flags and an effigy of Hun Sen. Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej issued an appeal for calm, but there were no immediate signs of the protesters dispersing.
Thailand said Cambodian authorities had done nothing to stop the extensive damage. The foreign ministry estimated the cost to businesses and for its embassy repairs came to more than one billion baht ($23.4 million).
Cambodia said it would pay.
“Certainly we are happy to pay the damage bill and we are happy to let Thai officials join the investigation,” defence minister Tea Banh told Thai television’s Channel Nine.
Tea Banh said authorities had made “a few hundred” arrests of demonstrators and looters. “We have arrested the key players,” he told the station.
“We miscalculated the situation. We did not think it would escalate to this worst case. That’s why we could not contain the mob,” he said.
The Phnom Penh violence was sparked by reported remarks by a Thai actress that the ancient Angkor Wat temple, the national symbol depicted on Cambodia’s flag, belonged to Thailand. She has denied making the remarks.
Seven giant C-130 transport planes landed in Bangkok today bringing about 700 people from Phnom Penh, mostly Thais but also three Australians, officials said. The Thai military said one worker at a Thai-owned hotel had been killed in the rioting, but Thailand’s defence minister later said the body was that of a Cambodian looter who had been shot.