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Thais flee Phnom Penh after night of riots

Thai commandos escort hundreds of nationals arriving in Bangkok
Thai commandos escort hundreds of nationals arriving in Bangkok

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Hundreds of frightened Thais have fled the Cambodian capital after a night of riots in which their embassy and businesses were torched.

Four giant C-130 Thai transport planes took off from Phnom Penh's military airport on Thursday morning with some 500 people on board, according to Reuters news agency.

The unrest broke out after a mob of about 1,000 people laid siege on Wednesday to the Royal Thai embassy and the ambassador's residence in the Cambodian capital.

The angry group also attacked and looted Thai establishments in the city, upset by remarks made by a Thai TV star who reportedly said Cambodia had stolen the famous Angkor Wat temple from Thailand.

The actress, Suwanan Kongying, has denied making any comments about the protected temple or Cambodia.

Local news reports over the last week ignited emotions and the situation intensified when Prime Minister Hun Sen banned a Thai made television serial starring the actress.

Low point

The leaders of both countries have been working the phones in a bid to resolve what Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has called the worst ever relations between the two.

Thailand has already levied diplomatic sanctions on Cambodia and recalled its ambassador from Phnom Penh.

A Cambodian protester encourages the crowd outside the embassy
A Cambodian protester encourages the crowd outside the embassy

The ambassador and his staff had to flee the premises through a back door after the mob stormed the embassy gates on Wednesday, overpowering about 50 policemen.

"This is the most terrible thing that can happen in a friendly country if Thai people have to escape from the backdoor of an embassy," Thaksin said.

The situation got so tense Thaksin sent a ultimatum to his Cambodian counterpart giving him one hour to return the situation to normal or he would dispatch commandos.

Cambodia's defense minister responded by calling on the army to take control at the embassy and promising to restore security.

Angry crowds prowled the capital well into the night, setting fire to cars and attacking Thai-owned and other foreign businesses, including Cambodia Shinawatra, the Cambodian branch of a telecoms company set up by Thaksin, Reuters reported.

In a diplomatic swipe, Bangkok said on Thursday it had suspended with immediate effect all government technical and economic cooperation with Cambodia. (Thais suspend economic cooperation)

The Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia's north is the country's national symbol and formed the capital of the Khmer empire.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia have always been rocky, but have strengthened in recent years.

The two nations share a border, but many Cambodians distrust their much bigger Southeast Asian neighbor.

The Thais last evacuated their nationals from Phnom Penh during a 1997 coup.

Both countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

-- CNN's Correspondent Tom Mintier and Reuters news agency contributed to this report


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