Thai 'gangster' insult a matter of definition, say Bangkok officials

Thai 'gangster' insult a matter of definition, say Bangkok
Written by Ngoun Sovan and Thet Sambath
Thursday, 02 April 2009

Thai foreign minister says he intended to praise Hun Sen as
‘sportsmanlike" and "big-hearted".

PRIME Minister Hun Sen lashed out at Thai Foreign Minister Kasit
Piromya for allegedly branding him a "gentleman with the mind of a
gangster", as Thai diplomats scramble for their dictionaries, claiming
the phrase was a routine compliment that was lost in translation.
"I am neither a gangster nor a gentleman, but a real man," the prime
minister said Tuesday during the inauguration of Samdech Hun Sen Quay
in Preah Sihanouk province's Stung Hav district.

Hun Sen said the comments came to light in late March after lawmakers
belonging to Thailand's opposition Puea Thai Party showed parliament
video footage of Kasit referring to Hun Sen as a "gangster", during
which Kasit amended his phrase to "gentleman with a mind of a

"If you used such language with other countries ... your country would
drop down to a cheap status," said Hun Sen.

"If I insulted your king and queen, what would you say? If I insulted
your prime minister or your ancestors, what would you say?"

Hun Sen also said he had an electoral mandate and requested the Thai
government to respect the dignity of his office as the legitimate
leader of Cambodia. "I am not angry with you, but you must use
dignified words ... with other state representatives," he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman of the Council of Ministers, agreed that the
Thai foreign minister, as a professional diplomat, should not use such
words to refer to the prime minister of another nation. "[Hun Sen] is
an elected prime minister, and when he says things like this, it casts
disdain on our nation," he said Tuesday.

A matter of semantics
But Thai officials have defended Kasit, saying the Cambodians
mistakenly confused the Thai term nak leng - meaning "gangster" - with
the phrase jai nak leng, which translates as "big-hearted", "generous"
or "manly".

"Jai nak leng in Thai is a compliment, it is very positive," said
Kamrob Palawatwichai, first secretary of the Thai embassy in Phnom

"A man who is responsible for his work is also called jai nak leng. My
foreign minister ... did not have any intention to mean it in a
negative way."

In a letter to You Ay, Phnom Penh's ambassador to Bangkok, Thai
Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Wirasakdi Futrakul claimed the
term meant "big heart", and that if the term had been meant in a
negative sense it would not have appeared next to the term suparb
burut ("gentleman").

"My foreign minister was complimenting Hun Sen as a big-hearted or
sportsmanlike gentleman," he wrote.

But Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
said Wednesday that the Thai statements had not yet absolved Kasit of

"We have not jumped to conclusions about the letter because we are
examining how the meaning of the word changes from Thai language to
English language," he said.

"We have not replied to the letter as well because we are waiting for
a personal letter from Kasit to respond to what he said."