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Thai Soldier Returned in Wake of Border Clashes

Thailand accused Cambodia of refusing to negotiate to resolve a border dispute that led to the fourth straight day of fierce clashes Monday, as Phnom Penh said that only U.N. peacekeepers can stop the fighting near the 11th century Hindu temple.

Cambodia returned a captured soldier to Thailand on Tuesday, as officials sought to diffuse tensions after weekend border clashes.

The 22-year-old soldier, Songkran Tongchompoo, who was captured in border fighting on Saturday, was returned at the request of Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

Nem Sowath, director-general of the foreign affairs department of the Cambodian Ministry of Defense, told reporters Tuesday the exchange had been in accordance with the laws of war.

However, he cited the request from the Thais as “more recognition for confirmation of the Thai invasion into Cambodian territory.”

Cambodia has claimed Thai troops entered Cambodia in the fighting; however Thai officials say they were fired on by Cambodian troops and returned fire.

Thai Ambassador to Cambodia Prasas Prasasvinitchai, who was present at the prisoner handover, thanked Cambodia for the swift return of the soldier.

Direk Bongkarm, defense attached for the Thai Embassy, said at the handover Thailand wanted to peacefully resolve conflicts at the border. There have been no new troop increases on the border since the fighting, he said.

The border area remained quiet on Tuesday. The last reported shootings occurred early Monday morning, after fighting erupted at several sites on Friday. However, hundreds of families who fled the fighting have not yet returned to the border area.

The fighting received international attention, and on Monday US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the US was urging “maximum restraint.”

Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Brazil’s ambassador to Cambodia, said Security Council members—for which Brazil is currently president—had “expressed their willingness to hold a Security Council meeting.”

The fighting reportedly damaged part of Preah Vihear temple, a Unesco World Heritage site. Unesco said in a statement it would send a team as soon as possible to assess the damage.