The collapse of relations between Thailand and Cambodia may seem a matter only they can resolve, but the ramifications are, in fact, regional. Unparalleled stability has taken root in Southeast Asia and it cannot be put at risk by such a spat. In the past decade, links and co-operation have expanded to an unprecedented level. Through trade and air routes, the region has grown closer. This has happened despite centuries of wars, border disputes and ethnic rivalry. Distrust has not been erased, yet there is a sense that the region wants to move together to tackle the future rather than individually. Ties were strengthened through expansion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and creation of the Asean Regional Forum. The threat of terrorism evoked a desire for military and police co-operation and intelligence sharing. Thailand and Cambodia have shown that the clock can too easily be turned back. On January 29, mobs raged through Phnom Penh, razing Thailand's embassy and burning businesses owned by Thais. Diplomatic relations were downgraded, borders closed and trade stopped. Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose nationalistic comments sparked the unrest, yesterday offered to fully compensate Thailand. His efforts may repair more than US$50 million in damage, but will not heal the deep wounds. Hun Sen faces re-election this year and his desire for another term - along with the ambitions of opposition leaders - is likely to fuel, rather than calm, the crisis. Thailand, a centuries-old rival and a major investor, will come up frequently in electioneering. After East Timor, Cambodia is East Asia's poorest nation. The murderous Khmer Rouge regime, a decade of Vietnamese occupation, political infighting and corruption have left it bankrupt. HIV/Aids and malaria infection rates are the worst in the region. The ancient temples of Angkor Wat, the country's historic symbol and a major tourist draw, are its only blessing. Pride or not, Cambodia cannot live without Thailand. If the two nations think otherwise, pressure must be exerted through Asean and other regional groupings to tell them otherwise. Their spat must not be allowed to put regional peace in jeopardy.