Course tries to heal old rifts

May 9, 2003

Academics in Thailand are trying to break new ground in the study of regional history to defuse national rivalries.

They blame an outbreak of anti-Thai rioting in Cambodia's capital city and a rift between the two countries on poor historical knowledge among modern Southeast Asians.

Earlier this year an allegation by Cambodian leader Hun Sen that a Thai soap opera star had claimed that the famous ruins of Angkor Wat were in fact Thai sparked riots by Cambodian nationalists that left the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh in ruins.

Charnvit Kasetsiri, founder of Southeast Asian studies at Bangkok's Thammasat University, said: "There are lots of reasons why the burning happened and one of them is history."

The university ran a programme that aimed "to demolish the wall of misunderstanding, mistrust and negative attitudes that has long obstructed good relations and sympathy between us and people living next door", Dr Charnvit said.

He said there was a lack of knowledge about the close ties that had existed for centuries between the two peoples. There was also a lack of awareness in Thailand that its neighbours saw it as overbearing, Dr Charnvit said.

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