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Cambodian 'incompetence' in anti-Thai riots

The famous Angkor Wat.  Alleged comments about the temple's origins sparked the violence
The famous Angkor Wat. Alleged comments about the temple's origins sparked the violence

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CNN's Tom Mintier reports on Cambodia's attempt to mend fences with Thailand after last week's riots on the Thai Embassy and businesses in Phnom Penh. (February 3)
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Rioters torch the Thai Embassy and businesses in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. CNN's Tom Mintier reports. (January 30)
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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has hit out at his own government, accusing it of incompetence in its handling of last week's anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen also denied claims from the opposition that he incited the rioting, in which the Thai embassy and over a dozen Thai-owned businesses in the Cambodian capital were torched, looted and vandalized.

"The government was incompetent for failing to crack down on the riots for the following reasons: we could not control the inflammatory information, [and] we did not used armed force to shoot the rioters," Hun Sen told a crowd at a temple inauguration in Kampot.

It was Hun Sen's first public appearance since Wednesday's violence, which sent Thai-Cambodian relations plummeting to its worst-ever low.

Cambodia has been scrambling to rekindle relations with Thailand in the wake of the rioting, pledging to pay compensation for the damage and promising a full probe into the incident.

Inflamed by alleged remarks from a Thai actress, a mob of about 1,000 people stormed and then torched the embassy before security forces could disperse the crowd.

Rioters then turned their sights to other Thai-businesses in the capital. One person was killed and several were injured.

The actress at the center of the storm, Suvanant Kongying, has denied saying Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple belonged to Thailand.

The orgy of violence against both the Thai embassy and private businesses in Cambodia will carry a huge price tag for Cambodia.

Thai investment in Cambodia is huge -- everything from telephones to hotels.

The attacks on offices and factories that are Thai-owned will most likely mean Thai investors will pull out of the market and stay out for some time.

While political fences may be mended in the coming weeks between Thailand and Cambodia the setback in economic relations could take months or years to fix.

Fence-mending

Thailand was forced to evacuate around 700 of its terrified citizens from Phnom Penh. It then moved to close its border to Cambodians, suspended most ties and downgraded diplomatic relations.

A military policeman stands guard inside the compound of the looted Royal Phnom Penh hotel
A military policeman stands guard inside the compound of the looted Royal Phnom Penh hotel

Bangkok has approved a fence-mending visit on Tuesday by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong but is still awaiting answers about what caused the rioting and the authorities efforts to put a stop to it.

Hun Sen was accused by opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, of inciting the riots for political purposes ahead of July's general election.

But the Cambodian leader, a former guerilla commander, denied the charge, maintaining that "a small group of extremists" were responsible.

He said he had gone without food for more than a day as he worked to control the situation.

"Because of my actions we avoided [more] Thai and Cambodian people being killed," Hun Sen said.

He added that the mob was enraged by false e-mail messages that said 20 Cambodians had been killed in an attack on the country's embassy in Bangkok.

"So they used that rumor to inflame the situation and anger."

About 57 people, including the owner of Cambodia's only independent FM radio station have been charged in connection with the riots.

The radio station owner has been charged with broadcasting false information about the deaths in Bangkok.



Reuters contributed to this report.

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