Outraged mobs who sacked Thailand’s embassy in Phnom Penh and trashed or torched several Thai-backed businesses have set the country’s development back by a decade, observers said Thursday, less than a day after thousands ravaged the capital.
“It’s hard to restore your image when you repeat the same mistakes over and over,” said Chea Vannath, executive director of the Center of Social Development, a democracy advocacy group.
“There was the fighting in 1997, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters fighting in 2000 and now this Thai incident. It’s an accumulation of so many other incidents,” she said.
In a statement from Prime Minister Hun Sen broadcast on national radio Thursday, the premier called the violence “regrettable” and blamed the riots on a small group of “extremists,” but fell short of a full apology.
Some diplomats see Hun Sen as being at least partially to blame for the rioting.
One pointed out that the premier took the first public shot at Thai television star Suvanant Kongying, who reportedly slandered Cambodia in an interview by accusing the Khmer people of stealing the Angkor Wat temples—an accusation that she has since denied.
The perceived slight was the cause for Wednesday’s demonstrations outside the Thai embassy that later deteriorated into rioting after a second rumor, that the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok was burned and Cambodians killed, swept through the mob.
The diplomat even suggested that the rioters might have been part of a larger political game that got out of hand.
“It’s election season, and by flying the Cambodian colors [Hun Sen] could claim to be a champion of Cambodian national interests,” the diplomat said.
“He probably thought that by taking a cheap shot he could score some point by playing on what this actress may or may not have said. But look what he unleashed. He made a gross miscalculation about his people and how they would react. This has got to be a rude awakening.”
He acknowledged that the rioting was going to impact an already flagging investment climate, and would hurt Cambodia’s tourism sector, one of the few viable industries in the poverty-stricken country.
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