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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 09:43 GMT
Radio boss charged over Cambodian riots
A Thai street cleaner pushes a bin past riot police officers guarding the Cambodian embassy  in Bangkok
Both governments now want to clear up the damage
The owner of an independent Cambodian radio station has been charged with inciting this week's anti-Thai riots in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Mam Sonando
Mam Sonando is accused of inciting hatred
Mam Sonando, of Beehive Radio FM 105, is accused of using his radio station to broadcast false reports of attacks in Thailand against Cambodians and spreading hatred against Thais.

The station owner was among nearly 150 people arrested during the disturbances, which have strained relations between Cambodia and Thailand.

The anti-Thai rampage began after rumours circulated that a Thai actress had suggested the ancient temple complex at Angkor Wat - a Cambodian national symbol - really belonged to Thailand. The actress has denied the comments.

Tensions have now eased. Cambodia has apologised and offered compensation for the incident, and the Thai leader has welcomed the gesture.

'False reports'

If convicted of all three charges of relaying false information, inciting discrimination, and inciting crime, Mam Sonando faces a maximum combined sentence of nine years in prison and a fine of 20 million riels (US$5,000).

ANGKOR WAT
Angkor Wat
Symbol on national flag
World heritage site
Built from 879 - 1191AD
'Lost' for centuries until rediscovered in 1860

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said on Thursday that Mam Sonando had broadcast a listener wrongly saying that nine to 10 Cambodian embassy officials were killed in Bangkok.

"They blame me for broadcasting an opinion of a listener which turned out to be untrue. But if I have to go to jail to allow people to express their opinion I am happy," Mam Sonando, who is on remand undergoing further questioning, told reporters.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has blamed the violence on "extremists" exaggerating reports of the attacks.

Apologies

A statement from Cambodia was broadcast on national media on Thursday. It expressed "most profound regret" and promised to compensate for the destruction of the Thai embassy and to safeguard the property of Thais who had fled the country.

Thais have been looking down on Cambodia and invading our territory, but we never had a good chance to show our anger

Piseth, Cambodia

Thailand welcomed the offer and said it would set up a committee to determine how to compensate Thai businesses.

"That is a very good and quick response gesture from the Cambodia side," Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said.

The incident began on Wednesday when anti-Thai protesters burned down the Thai embassy and vandalised dozens of businesses in the Cambodian capital.

The riots sparked counter-demonstrations in Bangkok on Thursday.

Thailand downgraded diplomatic ties with Cambodia and suspended all economic co-operation and business dealings.

CAMBODIAN-THAI TENSIONS
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

Thai officials have estimated the damage at 1 billion baht (US$23 million), including lost business opportunities.

One Cambodian man died in the riots and seven were injured.

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.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
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:

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