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 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 21:23 GMT
Thailand withdraws envoy to Cambodia
Thai businesses were also targeted by nationalist demonstrators
An angry crowd burn the Thai embassy's flag
Thailand is withdrawing its ambassador from Cambodia and preparing to evacuate nationals after anti-Thai protests in Phnom Penh sparked by a row over the Angkor Wat temple complex.

Demonstrators set fire to the Thai embassy in anger at comments attributed to a famous Thai actress demanding the return to Thai control of Angkor Wat.

Map of Thailand and Cambodia showing Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat
The actress, Suvanant Kongying, strongly denied making the remarks about the Cambodian national symbol.

Rioting continued late into the night with mobs attacking Thai-owned businesses, including hotels and restaurants.

In a televised broadcast, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he was sending military aircraft to Phnom Penh to evacuate any Thai citizens who wished to leave.

Shots fired

A day of mainly peaceful protests by about 400 people turned violent when the crowd swelled to around 1,000 people towards nightfall.

Police fired shots into the air but there were no immediate reports of casualties. The demonstrators dispersed briefly but regrouped to hurl stones at about 200 armed policemen.

A number of embassy staff said they scaled the walls of the embassy complex to escape the violence. All of the staff are now said to be safe.

Thais overran Khmer empire in 15th century
Border disputes continue
Cambodians wary of Thailand's more powerful army
Also resent Thai companies exploiting Cambodian natural resources

Cambodian national police chief Hok Lundy said police had tried to avoid violence, "but the protesters at the end turned violent and acted in a way punishable by law".

"Any place that has a Thai language sign has been attacked," he said, adding that some small-scale looting was also going on.

Thai troops

Mr Thaksin reacted angrily to the news of the violence and initially said he could send in troops to rescue Thai nationals.

However, shortly afterwards, a Thai official said the prime minister had decided not to despatch soldiers.

A largely peaceful demonstration got out of hand on Wednesday
Cambodian nationals start to destroy the outside of the embassy
Angkor Wat has been the subject of a dispute between the two countries for many centuries.

On Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen banned a Thai-made television serial starring Suvanant, and said that she was worth less than the "grass that grows around Angkor temples".

Suvanant was quoted by the Bangkok Post on Wednesday as saying that the comments were taken from a line one of her characters said in a TV drama which aired two years ago.

"I have never given an interview on Cambodia. I am not prejudiced against Cambodia or Cambodian people. I am sorry those allegations hurt so many people," she told the paper.

There are more than 100 temples at Angkor. It dates from the time of the Khmer empire - of which it was the capital - which ruled parts of South East Asia from the 9th to the 15th Century.

The Khmer empire was overrun by the Thais in the 15th Century, becoming little more than a vassal state.

In the modern era there have been regular disputes over borders and Cambodian perceptions that Thai companies are over-exploiting Cambodian natural resources.

  The BBC's Simon Montlake reports from Bangkok
"All embassy staff are reported to have escaped without injury"
  Kavi Chonghitthavorn, The Nation newspaper
"There is a historical rivalry... between the two countries"
See also:

27 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
26 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
13 Feb 98 | Science/Nature
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