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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 20:10 GMT
Cambodia apologises to Thais
Cambodian policeman surveys a burnt-out Thai hotel
Hundreds of Thais have left Cambodia
Cambodia has offered an apology and compensation to Thailand after riots in its capital this week drove hundreds of Thais to leave the country.

The statement, carried by national TV and radio, blamed Wednesday's riots in Phnom Penh on "extremists" exaggerating reports of attacks on Cambodians in Bangkok.

Thai Embassy burns on Wednesday night
An immense loss for Cambodia and the Cambodian people itself

Government statement
Expressing "most profound regret", the Cambodian Government promised to compensate for the destruction of the Thai Embassy and to safeguard the property of Thais who had fled the country.

Phnom Penh appeared to have returned to normal on Thursday evening apart from a heavy military presence in some areas, particularly around the airport.

There was no sign of mobs, but the Thai Embassy at the focus of the riots is now a burnt-out shell, the BBC's Tony Cheng reports.

In Siem Reap, the town next to the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat, many restaurants and hotels are boarded up since their Thai owners fled across the border.

Those who remained were being protected by Cambodian policemen and security guards.

'Immense loss'

In its statement, the Cambodian Government made no mention of the incident which reportedly sparked the unrest: an alleged remark by a Thai TV star suggesting that Angkor Wat had been stolen from Thailand.

One Cambodian man died in the riots and seven were injured as mobs attacked Thai-owned businesses and the embassy.

Map of Thailand and Cambodia showing Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat
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
"The Royal Government would like to express most profound regret for the events which took place and considers that they were an immense loss for Cambodia and the Cambodian people itself," it said.

It attributed the rioting to "the unfortunate instigation of a number of extremists who spread exaggerated news about violence against the Cambodian Embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Bangkok".

Referring to Thailand's evacuation of at least 700 of its nationals, the government promised to create a committee immediately for compensating the Thai Embassy and its staff.

It also promised to protect all the property of companies and Thai nationals who have left Cambodia until their return.

Thai anger

No official response to Cambodia's public offer was immediately forthcoming from Thailand which downgraded diplomatic relations following the riots.

Earlier on Thursday, angry Thais took to the streets of Bangkok to protest and burn Cambodian flags, prompting King Bhumibol Adulyadej to call for calm.

Angkor Wat
Symbol on national flag
World heritage site
Built from 879 - 1191AD
'Lost' for centuries until rediscovered in 1860
It was the first time he had stepped into a political crisis for more than 10 years.

Thailand suspended commercial flights between the two capitals and barred Cambodians from entering Thailand.

Analysts say it is unclear what really prompted the rioting, though Cambodian politicians may have been hoping to stir up nationalist sentiment ahead of July elections.

The Angkor Wat complex - Cambodia's national symbol and represented on its flag - sits well inside its borders and has not been disputed by the Thai Government.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said troops were on full alert in case of further violence but he called on people to "please understand that the country is not at war".

He said that normal relations with Cambodia could only resume after Cambodia made a full explanation and full compensation.

The BBC's Tony Cheng reports from Phnom Penh
"The estimated cost of the damage could be more than $20million"
Dr Peter Carey, Oxford University
'Angkor Wat is the heart of Cambodian identity'
The BBC's Annie Phrommayon in Bangkok
"A lot of people here feel that the king's honour is at stake."

Thailand has evacuated more than 500 of its nationals from Cambodia and downgraded diplomatic relations  over the riotingCambodia riots
Can Thai-Cambodian ties recover?
See also:

27 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
30 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
30 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
22 Nov 01 | Crossing Continents
31 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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