Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thailand's border dispute hits casinos

PHNOM PENH - HUNDREDS of Thai gamblers are avoiding Cambodian casinos a week after a territorial dispute between the neighbouring countries turned deadly, a tourism official said on Wednesday.

The months-long military standoff at the border between the two countries escalated into shooting on October 15 that killed one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers near Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear temple.

'Since the gunfight erupted, Thai nationals who come to visit casinos have dropped significantly. Only around 20 per cent of gamblers remain at the casinos,' said Mr Bou Vibol, chief of the Cambodian tourism office at Poipet border checkpoint, where there are several casinos catering to Thais. 

'In the past, normally on Friday, Saturday and Sunday thousands of Thais came to play. Now, the difference is like the earth and the sky,' he told AFP by telephone from his usually-bustling checkpoint.

Mr Bou Vibol said Thai tourists also appeared to have stopped visiting Cambodia's famed Angkor temples in northwestern Siem Reap province.

'Since the day of fighting erupted, it is quiet now. No more Thais crossed (Poipet) border to Angkor Wat,' he said.

The Poipet border crossing, in Cambodia's north-west, is the country's key gaming centre and trading hub with Thailand.

Tensions between Cambodia and Thailand flared in July when Preah Vihear was awarded UN World Heritage status, rekindling long-simmering tensions over ownership of land surrounding the temple.

Thai and Cambodian military officials are scheduled to hold talks on Thursday in Siem Reap aimed at calming the territorial dispute, while both Thai and Cambodian prime ministers plan to meet later this week in China.

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