Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and former Thai prime minister Somchai Wongsawat yesterday led their respective red and blue teams in a friendly football match aimed at boosting ties between Cambodia and Thailand.
More than 700 members of Thailand's red-shirt movement yesterday crossed the border through Sa Kaew's Aranyaprathet checkpoint to watch the match, which pitted their leaders against Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh.
Thailand and Cambodia have engaged in skirmishes over disputed border territory near the Preah Vihear Temple since Unesco listed it as a World Heritage site on July 7, 2008. Fierce clashes erupted in February and April this year as ties hit bottom under the government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva. The tension has eased since the Pheu Thai Party won July's election and the government of Yingluck Shinawatra took office.
Arisman Pongruangrong, a leader of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship who is wanted by Thai police on terrorism charges, did not turn up at the event, to the disappointment of scores of reporters waiting to interview him. He was reported to have appeared at the Washington Hotel, 7km outside Phnom Penh, to showcase his singing talents. Daruni Kritbunyalai, one of the UDD leaders who fled the country following the violence of May 2010, was seen at the football match, however.
Pheu Thai Party list MP Jatuporn Prompan said the red-shirt football team will travel to Burma, Laos and Vietnam soon to play more friendly matches.
Weng Tochirakarn, another red-shirt leader, said that as it was a friendly match aimed at boosting ties, Hun Sen captained the red-garbed team, which comprised Cambodian officials and lawmakers, while Somchai captained the blue-shirted team. Cambodia's red team won 10-7. During the first half, the red team scored four goals, one of which was courtesy of Hun Sen, while the blue team netted one. During the second half, the red team scored six more goals - including four by Hun Sen, from whom members of the blue team dared not try to take the ball.
The atmosphere was lively and fun. Both teams left the field as soon as the game concluded to prepare for a dinner and night-time entertainment featuring performances of folk dances of both countries.
Somchai said the friendly match had strengthened bilateral ties between the two countries, and he believed problems at the government and local levels between the countries would be easily solved.
Some red shirts who did not produce passports were not granted permission to leave Thailand.
Sujitra Dong-ngarm, 59, a Maha Sarakham red-shirt leader, said she hoped good relations could be restored between the two countries and that no further border clashes would take place.
Noppadol Ruamkid, 44, a tour operator, said yesterday's friendly football match marked the first time Hun Sen had showcased his sporting abilities, and described the event as historic and impressive.