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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 11:57 GMT
Picking up the pieces in Cambodia
A guard stands next to a burnt truck at the Thai-owned Siam Cement Cambodia company
Anti-Thai riots have left the future uncertain

On the busy streets of Phnom Penh, life seems to have returned to normal since anti-Thai riots last week forced the flight of nearly all of the country's sizeable Thai community.

But one look at the Thai embassy shows that life for Thais in Cambodia is anything but normal.

The sooner we compensate the loss for all Thai investors... the sooner the confidence will come back

Khieu Kanharith, Cambodian government spokesman

The structure is still there, but you can still see where the flames have licked up against the walls.

On the entrance gate is graffiti saying 'Thai robber' and 'Thais go home'.

Well, all the Thais have now gone home.

And although the Cambodian government has made some very conciliatory gestures towards Thailand, it remains uncertain how long it will take for the Thais to come back.

Brian works as a driver showing tourists around the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

"I think Thai no good. All the people in Cambodia, they don't like Thailand," he said.

Siem Reap, the city Brian works in and the site of the famous Angkor Wat temples, is heavily reliant on Thai investment and Thai-run businesses.

Safety concerns

Thai Embassy burns on Wednesday night
The embassy was the focus of anti-Thai feeling
Now, most of those businesses have gone, and their owners are too scared to come back.

It is a significant problem for Cambodia.

The money that flows over the border has started to bring economic growth to a country that has suffered from 30 years of civil war and foreign interference.

Parts of the country's infrastructure, like the mobile phone network, are run by Thai companies, and the increasingly important tourist industry is fed by Thai airlines flying out of Bangkok.

The Cambodian prime minister has made an unreserved apology to Thailand, and his spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, thinks that the confidence will soon return.

"Cambodia is still a good place for investment. We need time to install all this confidence back. The sooner we compensate the loss for all Thai investors... the sooner the confidence will come back," he said.

Phnom Penh at this time of year is a lush city with tree-lined boulevards and birdsong audible above the early morning traffic.

But this peaceful image belies centuries of ethnic conflict between the Cambodian and Thai people.

Today, Cambodians feel as if their more affluent Thai neighbours look down on them and plunder the country for economic gain.

Dialogue

Chea Vannath is head of the Centre for Social Development in Phnom Penh.

These Cambodians lost their homes when a Thai factory next door was burnt down
The Cambodians have promised compensation
She feels that merely soothing the diplomatic feathers of Thailand's officials is not going to be enough.

"There is still a lot of misunderstanding among the people... we need to have open dialogue," she said.

Dialogue is a long term solution, but in the short term, Cambodia needs to reassure those who fled that they can return in safety and resume their business operations.

Kisinee Laoharirojana is an office manager who commuted between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

After getting caught up in the riots, she fled in a fleet of Thai military aircraft that evacuated seven hundred Thai nationals.

She is unsure if she will ever return.

"I may go back. But if you asked me what the image I have now of Cambodia is, it is the hundreds of motorbikes that chased us. I don't even know that I dare to get on one of them again because I can't trust the driver any more," she said.


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:

03 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
31 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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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