Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen today denied claims he helped trigger last week’s anti-Thai riots, saying it was part of a well-planned plot by an extremist group.
He said the group – which he did not identify – wanted to create instability by starting a conflict between Thailand and Cambodia. The violence plunged relations between the neighbours to their lowest level in decades.
“The issue of nationalism provided the starting point (for the riots). They started with rumours about alleged words spoken by a Thai actress,” Hun Sen said in his first comments about the unrest that rocked Phnom Penh.
The riots were prompted by local reports that the popular Thai soap star Suwanan Kongying had said Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple, its national symbol, should belong to Thailand.
The reports were denied by the actress and proved to be fabricated.
Mobs set fire to the Thai Embassy and Thai-owned businesses, forcing Thailand to evacuate about 700 of its citizens in military planes the next day.
Thailand responded by downgrading diplomatic ties with Cambodia, closing its land border and suspending economic cooperation.
On Saturday, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra blamed Hun Sen for the riots, saying he was too slow in sending security forces to protect the embassy. Others have also pointed the finger at Hun Sen for castigating the Thai actress in a speech last Monday, providing credibility to the media reports of her alleged statement and stirring nationalist sentiments.
The Cambodian government has arrested 57 people in connection with the riots, including two journalists who have been charged with inciting violence by spreading false information. The others have been charged with looting.