The burning of the Thai Embassy in Cambodia

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

The offices of Cambodia Shinawatra Telecommunications, firebombed, windows smashed, with masonry damage.

Flashback to Phnom Penh 2003
Hamish writes: With the growing tension over the ownership of Khao Pra Viharn, and speculation that it might lead to scenes similar to those in 2003, I thought it might be appropriate to share some photos I took while I was in Phnom Penh just after the anti-Thai demonstrations of February of that year. I was there for a couple of days, a week or so after the demonstrations, and asked a moto driver to show me some of the results around town. He explained that Thai owned businesses and Thai restaurants felt the worst of the anger.

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

The flagpole where the Thai flag usually hangs, on the promenade flanking the Tonle Sap, after the flag had been removed and burned.

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

Above: Thai owned soft drinks cannery virtually razed to the ground.

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

Above: Thai owned hotel. You cannot see much of the damage here as metal sheets had been erected. However, behind them were the shells of burnt out cars, still in the parking lot. The low rise buildings showed fire damage, broken windows and smashed masonry. A guard, apparently the only person on site, made it quite clear that I was not welcome when I took out my camera to photograph the cars.

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

(Photo: Hamish Chalmers)

Above: The Royal Thai Embassy boarded-up, showing fire damage and broken windows.

Suthichai Yoon: In search of deeper answers to Cambodia - The Nation, February 6, 2003
...Until that dark ugly night of January 29, the Thai psyche simply refused to absorb the hard, cold fact that we were considered a new breed of imperialist.... We thought since they use our mobile phone service, watch our TV soap operas and consume our instant noodles, they must really love all things Thai....

Cambodian opposition parties - February 6, 2003
The Cambodian opposition political parties are shouting for Hun Sen's resignation. These parties launch their statements from overseas, since being in Cambodia would subject them to harassment and arrest. The same thing happens in other nascent 'democracies' like Malaysia, Egypt, or Pakistan (when Pakistan was a democracy). The following is about as strident a message one is likely to hear against Hun Sen from other politicians from inside Cambodia. It is also an interesting claim of a conspiracy to implicate the Sam Rainsy Party in the rioting....
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF THE KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA - Phnom Penh, February 3, 2003 - FABRICATED EVIDENCE AGAINST SAM RAINSY - In their attempts to put the blame for the January 29, 2003 anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh on opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Cambodian government officials have sent to Thai officials and journalists in Bangkok a real photo with a wrong caption.
The photo, which has been broadcast by Thai television stations, shows Sam Rainsy leading a demonstration passing in front of the Royal Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh. Yes, the photo is recent and real. But it is a photo of a demonstration on January 27, 2003 led by Sam Rainsy to protest irregularities in the ongoing voter registration process. Demonstrators, including Buddhist monks who demand the right to vote, marched in an orderly and peaceful procession from the National Assembly to the headquarters of the National Election Committee (NEC) located Norodom Boulevard, about 500 meters further from the Royal Thai Embassy, on the opposite side of the Boulevard. On their way to the NEC, demonstrators, including Sam Rainsy, had to pass in front of the Royal Thai Embassy on that peaceful and cheerful day. The photo was taken there and then, and therefore has no connection whatsoever with the violent and ugly anti-Thai demonstrations on January 29, 2003. - SRP Members of Parliament

Dark days for the Thai border casinos - The Nation, February 5, 2003

Anti-Thai riots leave casinos out of luck - South China Morning Post, February 5, 2003
...With gambling illegal in Thailand, almost all casino business in Cambodia comes from its
western neighbour - estimated to be worth as much as US$150 million (HK$1.17 billion) a year. Up to 7,000 Thais flock each weekend to the two casinos in O'smach, in northern Cambodia, with 500 Thais gambling there during the week.... Another seven casinos in the border town of Poipet contributed at least US$4 million in tax revenue in 2001, although unofficial profits are reported to run to tens of millions of dollars....

More on Thai casinos in Cambodia

Riots may cost Hun Sen votes - The Straits Times, February 5, 2003

Thai F-16s, carrier were ready for Khmer action - The Nation, February 6, 2003

Assessment of the damage - The Nation, February 5, 2003
The residence of the Thai ambassador to Cambodia, which was torched and looted last week, is beyond repair, and 90 per cent of Thai property owned by five businesses is unsalvageable, a Foreign Ministry official said yesterday.... Bandhit said at least 90 per cent of the property destroyed belonged to five companies: MPP Corp, the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel, Cambodia Shinawatra Corp, Samart Cambodia Corp and TV5.

The latest rumor -, February 4, 2003
They claim this is 'Reliable': A financial dispute might have contributed to last week’s anti-Thai riots (3) - The January 29 violent anti-Thai demonstrations in Phnom Penh might have been trigged also by a financial dispute between the two largest Thai petroleum companies vying for a multi-billion contract with the Cambodian government covering the joint exploitation of and sharing of revenues from promising oil and gas fields in the overlapping zones in the Gulf of Thailand claimed by both countries. Each one of the two companies has its supporters in high political spheres both in Thailand and Cambodia. One of them was due to sign a historic contract with the Phnom Penh government last week. In order to prevent the signing of the contract and preserve a chance to reverse the situation in its favor, the other company felt it had no alternative but to create a political and diplomatic crisis between the two countries by pushing its political supporters in Cambodia to organize last week’s riots. Mission accomplished.

Bad history and good neighbours - The Nation, February 3, 2003
2b was preparing info on Thailand's history in Cambodia, but Chang Noi beat us to it: Siam is to Cambodia as Burma is to Siam. In Thailand’s history books, the country is always being attacked by a bad neighbour to the west, Burma, which keeps sacking the capital. Siam is never aggressive but defends itself well and honourably. In these books, there is little about wars to the east. But the Khmer history books are different. They also have an aggressive neighbour to the west, which sacks their capital and covets their most glorious monument. Other articles by Chang Noi.

Moving toward blame and normalization - February 2, 2003
Cambodian politicians are jockeying for position after the disastrous events of this week. China is warning both Thailand and Cambodia to normalize relations soon. Hun Sen has rounded up various opponents and is blaming the opposition for the rioting. Thai PM Thaksin is being praised for his decisive tone during the crisis.

Govt bars Cambodian opposition leader from entry - MCOT, February 2, 2003
...Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said that he had barred Mr Rainsy from entry, claiming that his presence in Thailand would destroy the fragile political truce between the two countries, and that Thailand would not allow anyone to use its soil as a stage on which to air political views...

Sam Rainsy's Statement - February 1, 2003
Here's the message Sam Rainsy wanted to deliver:
Singapore, February 1st, 2003
Today, in my capacity as an elected representative of the Cambodian people, I tried to come to Thailand to the deliver the following message to the Thai people and the Thai government:
1- I feel sorry for what happened in Phnom Penh on January 29, 2003 and I apologize for the wrongdoings of some of my compatriots who indulged in violence.
2- The January 29 incidents do not reflect the feelings of the Cambodian people toward the Thai people. For partisan and personal interests, Prime Minister Hun Sen stirred up anti-Thai feelings in order to divert attention from increasingly serious internal problems he cannot solve. On January 27 he made an inflammatory speech broadcast on the national radio, which was an incitement to racism, hatred and violence. Subsequently, Hun Sen’s supporters meticulously organized the violent and destructive January 29 demonstrations, during which the police stood idle until the Royal Thai Embassy was completely burnt down.
3- Hun Sen is a wicked man who always tries to put the blame for his wrongdoings on other people, especially the democratic opposition used as a scapegoat. He has been striving to eliminate members of the Sam Rainsy Party either physically or legally through Cambodia’s farcical judiciary system. While ensuring impunity for himself and his accomplices, he fabricates evidence against those he wants to eliminate, such as my colleague Sok Yoeun currently detained in Thailand, and myself following the January 29 incidents.
4- I deny having anything to do with the above-mentioned demonstrations and challenge any self-proclaimed eyewitnesses to bring concrete and precise evidence proving my presence in front of the Royal Thai Embassy on January 29, 2003. As a democrat and a Buddhist, I do not believe in and have never used violence as a means to solve problems.
5- As I said in an interview with Thailand’s renown newspaper Thai Rath on January 28, 2003, the Thai people and the Cambodian people are like brothers and sisters. Therefore, we must not let any irresponsible political leader such as Hun Sen destroy the fraternal relations between our two countries.
Sam Rainsy
Member of Cambodia’s National Assembly

Flights resuming - Bangkok Post, February 1, 2003
...Only Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways had suspended their services. Thai Airways said its two daily return flights from Bangkok to Phnom Penh would not resume until Monday at the earliest for safety reasons.... Bangkok Airways flights resumed February 1.

Diplomats puzzled by cops' failure to protect Thai embassy - The Straits Times, February 1, 2003
...A government source confirmed to The Straits Times that high-ranking officials - including the Interior Minister, the Defence Minister and the national police chief - were all gathered at the ruling party's headquarters only 500 m from the besieged Thai Embassy on Wednesday night...

The situation in Cambodia - Asian Trails, January 31, 2003
The today’s situation in Phnom Penh is absolutely calm, actually visits resumed and the town has returned to its normal activities. Siem Reap has not been affected at all and is busy as usual. The Cambodian Government has unanimously decided to fully refund all damages resulting of yesterday’s riots in Phnom Penh. A personal advisor to the King of Cambodia is presently in Bangkok to discuss yesterday’s issue with the King of Thailand. Cambodian’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has sent 2 advisors to Bangkok to meet with his Thai counter partners. As per from yesterday and future notice, Royal Phnom Penh Hotel and Juliana Hotel will be closed. The Regent Park Hotel is normally open and fully operational. Thai Airways International flights are canceled until February 7. Bangkok Airways flights have resumed--they were actually only stopped for one day.

Sam Rainsy on his way to Bangkok - Sam Rainsy Press Release, Singapore, January 31, 2003
Following allegations made by some Cambodian government officials that I was involved in the January 29, 2003 violent demonstrations against the Royal Thai Embassy and Thai interests in Phnom Penh, I want to clear my reputation by coming to Thailand to tell the truth to the Thai authorities and public opinion. I will travel with my French passport and will arrive at Bangkok international airport on February 1st, 2003 at 13:45 by Thai Airways flight TG 404 from Singapore.
Sam Rainsy, Member of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia

Court charges radio station owner with inciting anti-Thai riots - AP, January 31, 2003
A court on Friday charged the owner of Cambodia's only independent radio station with inciting mobs that attacked the Thai Embassy and Thai businesses in the worst riots Cambodia has seen in decades. Mam Sonando of Beehive radio FM 105 was accused of using his radio station to broadcast false reports of attacks in Thailand against Cambodians and of spreading hatred against Thais, Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Yet Chakriya, said. His wife denied that the station, which frequently criticises government policies, had broadcast any reports of violence against Cambodians in Thailand.... No action has been taken against the Cambodian newspaper or other media outlets that repeated the rumor using strident anti-Thai rhetoric. [UPDATE: Cambodia arrests newspaper publisher for inciting riots] Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen also delivered a tirade against the actress.... Prosecutor Yet Chakriya said that Beehive Radio falsely reported that the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok had been destroyed by Thai mobs and that some 20 Cambodians were killed. 'I will be proud to be imprisoned,' said Mam Sonando, 61, whose opinionated radio station - the only broadcast outlet not controlled by the government - has made him an emerging public figure in the capital...

Poipet casinos seek help from Hun Sen - February 1, 2003
Calamity: the borders are still closed during this Chinese New Year. More on Thai casinos in Cambodia

Press release from the National Sustaining Party - January 31, 2003
Cambodia National Sustaining Party is condemning the illegal acts of the Royal Government of Cambodia of arrested Mr. Mam Sonando, director of the Beehive Radio Station. The arrest of Mr. Mam Sanondo by authorities is illegal and violated the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of press, which is the key principle of Democracy. Cambodia National Sustaining Party would like to take this opportunity to appeal to United States of America, Human Rights groups, the United Nations and all democratic forces to put pressure the Royal Government of Cambodia which abuses the Human Rights, intimidations, and violated the Freedom of citizen of Cambodia.
Pen Sovann - President Of Cambodia National Sustaining Party

Popularity of PM increases in light of riot - Bangkok Post, February 1, 2003

The wild world of the Cambodian press - The Nation, February 1, 2003

How close we came to war with Cambodia
- The Nation, February 1, 2003

The Dangerous Game - January 30, 2003
By now you've heard the news (One billion baht up in smoke and still counting, Royal Phnom Penh Hotel Destroyed in Riots, Flight disruptions in Phnom Penh, Google news search for Cambodia, and interesting photos in a pdf doc showing the destruction), so we thought we would try to bring you some things you have not seen. It is quite likely that the entire affair was political maneuvering for the upcoming Cambodian elections that got out of hand (and the Thai Embassy design had already been criticized for being larger and grander than the Cambodian Grand Palace). For those not up on their Thai culture, the event that really angered Thais was the disrespect shown images of the HM The King. Photos of rioters stamping on these photos were widely circulated among Thais by email ("I can tolerate flag burnings, but not stomping on the king's picture," a 40-year-old housewife, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.). Below is the original article (from Reaksmey Angkor, January 18, 2003 courtesy of Funcinpec) that started controversy:

Funcinpec is a Cambodian politial party. They note about the article: Please read the article's last sentence.. it said: "In reality, in relations to yuon (Vietnam) and Siam (Thailand), only Thailand looks down on the Khmer and is eager to encroach on Khmer land more than Vietnam 10 to 20 times." Furthermore, throughout the entire article the author uses the term "Prachea chun Khmer," which only the communist party (ies) in Cambodia use it. The non-communiist Khmer or Khmer people in general, we general said "Prachea pol rath Khmer" or "Prachea reastr Khmer," when we relate to the common Khmer people.

Hun Sen behind the rioting?
Khmer Intelligence, a shadowy anti-Hun Sen information and rumor reporting site, claims: Hun Sen was behind yesterday’s violent anti-Thai demonstrations (2)
After delivering inflammatory speeches broadcast on the national radio and television to exacerbate nationalistic and anti-Thai feelings following an alleged insult to the Cambodian people by a Thai actress, Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to organize yesterday’s anti-Thai demonstrations in Phnom Penh, which turned violent.
Hun Sen’s motives are the following:
1- In relation to a controversial border treaty the Phnom Penh government plans to sign with Vietnam next March, Hun Sen wants to divert the public attention from Vietnam to Thailand, which is easy to do since the two countries have many potential problems with neighboring Cambodia. The King has said he would not endorse the treaty with Vietnam and, if out of the country, he would not allow acting Head of State Chea Sim to sign on his behalf. Following yesterday’s incident and the increased anti-Thai popular feelings, the proposed treaty with Vietnam could now meet with less resistance on the part of the public opinion.
2- The Cambodian authorities manage to put the blame for yesterday’s riots on the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. Very shortly after the riots, Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh told Thai General Yathip Vichit on the phone that the SRP was behind the anti-Thai demonstrations
3- Yesterday’s incident can be used as a pretext to suspend many civil and political rights, which would allow the Hun Sen government to:
- Crackdown on pro-democracy forces. Henceforth any pro-democracy demonstrations will be prohibited in the name of public order and national security; the popular Beehive radio, which has been threatened many times in the past, can be closed down any time from now; the most vocal nationalist students who have been organizing protests against violations of Cambodia’s territorial integrity by Thailand and Vietnam and who have recently formed a new political party, will see their activities submitted to more stringent control before the signing of the above-mentioned border treaty with Vietnam.
- Stifle the growing protest against shortcomings and irregularities in the voter registration process so as to eventually limit voter turnout and ensure victory for the CPP at the July election (KI, 28 January). Efforts to inform potential voters and encourage them to go to register and attempts on the part of the opposition, the civil society and the international community to redress election irregularities will be stifled, so that the CPP will be in a position to manipulate the whole election process.

Statement from Sam Rainsy
The Sam Rainsy Party is the leading opposition party. Hun Sen has often blamed fallout from his political brinksmanship on Sam Rainsy.
Cambodian democrats may face possible arrest on trumped-up charges. This evening, Mom Sonando, a democrat and the most well-known and well-liked radio personality of Beehive radio, was detained by the Criminal Department of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police allegedly on a charge of broadcasting false information that incited riots yesterday that led to the destruction of the Thai Embassy and other Thai interests in Phnom Penh.
These current developments are typical of Hun Sen’s tactics to clamp down on the opposition in the months leading up to the election. It is also a poor attempt by Hun Sen to deflect blame from irresponsible comments he made in Kompong Cham on Monday, January 27, 2003, about “Morning Star,” a Thai TV star.
On behalf of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) members, I condemn the acts of violence in the strongest terms. The SRP stands for non-violence and encourages all friends of true democracy to stand with us.
Sam Rainsy
Leader of the Opposition


Protesters sing the National Anthem in front of the Cambodian Embassy

Thais Protect Cambodian Embassy
On January 30, several hundred young people (mainly young men) men held a demonstration in front of the Cambodian Embassy on Rajadamri Road. After the signage was torn off the front wall of the compound, the police, many in riot gear, cordoned off the sidewalk in front of the embassy.


Listening to a statement from the Royal Secretary

Thai king calms anti-Cambodian rally - Reuters, January 30, 2003
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej stepped in to calm rising anti-Cambodian sentiment in Bangkok on Thursday after hundreds of Thais were airlifted out of Phnom Penh following riots there. Police General Sant Sarutanonda told an angry mob of about 1,000 people gathered outside the Cambodian embassy in central Bangkok that he had received a call from a royal secretary conveying the king's call for calm. "Thais are now heroes in the perception of the international community, we should not act like bandits," Sant told the rally quoting royal secretary Arsa Sarasin....

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