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 Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 04:48 GMT
Panicked Thais flee Cambodia
Thais evacuated from Cambodia arrive in Bangkok
More than 500 Thais left Phnom Penh
Military planes have flown hundreds of Thai citizens out of Phnom Penh after demonstrations over who controls Angkor Wat temple turned violent.

Please understand that the country is not at war

Thai General Vichit Yathip
One man was missing and feared dead after mass demonstrations outside the Thai embassy in the Cambodian capital.

Angry crowds gathered and then attacked the embassy after comments attributed to a Thai TV star that the famed temple complex was stolen from Thailand.

The row over the temple - Cambodia's national symbol and represented on its flag - has provoked the biggest diplomatic upset between the two South East Asian countries for decades.

File photo of woman at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the national symbol of Cambodia
Thailand withdrew its ambassador to Cambodia and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at one point threatened to send in troops to protect citizens.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said nationalist extremists had whipped up the violence and urged people to calm the situation. He acknowledged that relations with Thailand had plummeted to a "level of concern".

A total of 511 Thai nationals left Phnom Penh on four military transport planes. A fifth plane ferried Thai commandos sent to carry out the evacuation.

Border alert

General Vichit Yathip, Thailand's chief military adviser, said: "The operation went on smoothly with the co-operation from Cambodian army.

"There were no protests at the airport. Our commandos... were there only to provide security."

CAMBODIAN-THAI TENSIONS
Thais overran Khmer empire in 15th century
Angkor Wat briefly held by Thai army at end of WW2
Border disputes continue
Cambodians wary of Thailand's more powerful army
Also resent Thai companies exploiting Cambodian natural resources

He said Thai armed forces were on full alert at the border, while the navy had deployed warships as a precautionary measure.

"But please understand that the country is not at war," he said.

Earlier, Mr Thaksin said "normal relations will resume only after Cambodia is able to explain what happened and fully compensate for the loss".

He said he had spoken to Hun Sen about the violence.

"Even through my Cambodian friend said sorry and apologised... I think something has to be done," he said.

Retaliation

Mr Thaksin said he had recalled his ambassador from Phnom Penh and would ask Cambodia's envoy in Bangkok to leave.

Scores of people gathered outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok on Thursday to demonstrate against the violence. A large number of police guarded the embassy building.

Any place that has a Thai-language sign has been attacked

Hok Lundy,
Cambodian police chief
Rumours that the Cambodian mission in Bangkok had been destroyed had exacerbated the violence in Phnom Penh.

Demonstrators set fire to the Thai embassy and targeted hotels and businesses believed to be owned by Thai nationals.

One Thai man who worked at the Royal Phnom Penh hotel was missing and feared dead, officials said.

Cambodian national police chief Hok Lundy said: "Any place that has a Thai-language sign has been attacked." There was also some small-scale looting going on, he said.

Actress explanation

The actress whose alleged comments sparked the violence strongly denied making remarks about Angkor Wat.

Suvanant Kongying was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying that the comments demanding Angkor be controlled by Thailand were spoken by a character she played in a TV drama two years ago.

Map of Thailand and Cambodia showing Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat
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.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Larry Jagan
"Suspension of all Thai social and business contacts"
  Kavi Chonghitthavorn, The Nation newspaper
"There is a historical rivalry... between the two countries"
  Dr Peter Carey, Oxford University
'Angkor Wat is the heart of Cambodian identity'
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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