Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thai Cambodian border war not good for business

Trade, tourism and gambling activities along the border with Cambodia have dropped sharply a week after the territorial dispute between the two countries turned deadly, tourism operators say.

The months-long military standoff at the border escalated into shooting on Oct 15 that claimed the lives of one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers in a disputed area adjoining Si Sa Ket province near Preah Vihear temple.

''More than 100 million baht in trade and tourism has been lost in the border areas in Si Sa Ket over the past five days,'' said Sriwan Kieatsuranont, chairman of Si Sa Ket Chamber of Commerce.

The government should quickly settle the dispute with Phnom Penh to restore the regional economy, he said.

Tour operator Panida Piriyakitphaiboon said business in provinces bordering Cambodia had dropped by 30%, even though it is the is high season, because of safety concerns.

The number of Thais crossing the border to gamble at casinos in Cambodia has also dropped sharply.

''Since the fighting the number of Thai nationals coming to visit casinos has dropped significantly. Only around 20% of gamblers remain at the casinos,'' said Bou Vibol, chief of the Cambodian tourism office at Poi Pet border checkpoint.

''In the past, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday thousands of Thais normally came to play. Now, the difference is like the earth and the sky,'' he said.

''Since the day the fighting erupted, it has been quiet. No more Thais crossing the

[ Poi Pet] border to Angkor Wat.''

Thai and Cambodian military officials are scheduled to hold talks today in Siem Reap aimed at calming the territorial dispute, while the two prime ministers plan to meet during the two-day Asia-Europe Summit (Asem), which begins in Beijing tomorrow, to discuss the dispute on the sidelines.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat yesterday met Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Chakkabatr, army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda and high-ranking officials from the Foreign Ministry for a briefing ahead of the meeting.

A source close to Mr Somchai saw the meeting between the prime minister and Gen Anupong as a sign of a truce between them.

Since making a televised demand for Mr Somchai to step down to take responsibility for the Oct 7 violence, the army chief has reportedly tried to avoid seeing Mr Somchai or talking with him.

''That Gen Anupong came to see Mr Somchai

[about Cambodia and the Preah Vihear temple] means they have softened and agreed to work together, even though their relations are not quite the same,'' said the source.

Si Sa Ket deputy governor Maitree Inthusut yesterday laid the wreaths presented by Their Majesties the King and the Queen and members of the royal family before the coffin of army ranger Bunyarit Kantee who died on Tuesday from wounds received in the clashes.

First Army Commander Lt-Gen Khanit Sapitak said the situation along the Cambodian border in the eastern region remained calm.

People on both sides of the border wanted the conflict resolved amicably, he said, also noting the number of tourists had dropped.

He said Thai authorities are prepared to demarcate the 165-km border with their Cambodian counterparts.

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