PHNOM PENH: A beautiful actress, a revered king, false rumours, political intrigue and ancient temples in the jungle could all be elements of a comic opera.
But add fire, death and destruction to the anti-Thai riots in Cambodia this week and nobody is laughing.
Even though an ambassador had to climb a fence and take to a boat.
Many, however, are puzzled.
“Befuddling” is how the Cambodia Daily described yesterday the security lapse which saw mobs torch the Thai Embassy and Thai-owned businesses here on Wednesday night.
The superficial facts are reasonably clear: Cambodian newspapers carried rumours that a Thai soap-opera actress had claimed Cambodia's centuries-old temple complex, Angkor Wat, in fact belonged to Thailand.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen lent strength to the rumours by saying publicly that the actress, Suvanant Kongying, was not worth “a few bushes of grass near Angkor Wat.”
Protesters who then took to the streets were further inflamed by false reports that the Cambodian Embassy was under attack in the Thai capital Bangkok and Cambodians there were being killed.
They then set fire to cars, the Thai Embassy, a top tourist hotel and other Thai-owned businesses in an orgy of rage and looting that left at least one person dead and several injured.
They jumped on pictures of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
When this insult to their beloved monarch reached the ears of the Thai people, an angry 1,000-strong crowd gathered in front of the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand.
They only dispersed when the king himself made a rare intervention and called for calm.
A furious Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra downgraded diplomatic relations with Cambodia.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's government apologised and offered compensation.
So far, so reasonably clear.
But the questions of who started the rumours and why the police were so ineffective in protecting Thai property are being asked in both capitals.
The editor of one of the newspapers which published reports of the actress' alleged comments admitted that the story was based on a rumour he had been told by three unidentified men.
Rasmei Angkor (Light of Angkor) editor In Chan Watha said:
“I was just a spokesman for the people.”
Some diplomats suggested Hun Sen had deliberately played on nationalist sentiment when he criticised the alleged remarks by the Thai actress, who has denied making them.
Although the actress' bust size has not played a major role in the imbroglio, her beauty could perhaps justify the whole affair being dismissed as a classic “storm in a B-cup.”
And the temples, having survived the world of sex, rumours, intrigue and royalty as the capital of an ancient Khmer Empire founded in the ninth century by King Jayavarman II, are likely to survive this. – AFP