Envoy Fails to End Tension after Soap Star's `Insult' ; City Riots Cambodia's Diplomatic Efforts Find Cool Response in Thailand after Violence in Phnom Penh Targets Ethnic Minority

Article excerpt

Sam Rainsy, leader of Cambodia's political opposition, flew to Thailand yesterday to try to explain the xenophobic riots that forced 700 Thais to flee the smouldering capital of Phnom Penh last week. But he ended up held in protective custody, then bundled on the next plane to Singapore.

Tensions are still running high between the two neighbouring countries. Cambodians are barred from entering Thailand, and vice versa. Glum gamblers are penned up near the frontier, making desultory bets on when Thais might be allowed to cross over to the Cambodian casinos.

Despite a grovelling apology from the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, plus a promise of pounds 14m compensation for damage to the Thai embassy, three hotels and Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh on Wednesday night, the rift will take some time to heal. It did not help that one of the businesses firebombed was the mobile phone firm owned by the family of Thailand's Prime Minster, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Unlikely as it seems, the violence was triggered by an "insult" from the former ice skating champion Kob - otherwise Suwanan Konyig, 24, and now Thailand's hottest soap star - who was misquoted in the Khmer press as refusing to visit Cambodia until the temple of Angkor Wat was returned to Thailand.

Such apparent Thai arrogance sent Cambodian youths berserk. The ninth- century temple is a Khmer national treasure; it appears on the country's flag and on its currency. …