Eye-to-eye: Indian soldiers patrolling.

Eye-to-eye: Indian soldiers patrolling.

Eyeball-to-eyeball: India, China troops within shooting range at Spanggur

China militia at border; army talks remain inconclusive, top commanders to meet again

Agency Report | New Delhi | 12 September, 2020 | 11:00 PM

China mobilises thousands of soldiers, tanks and howitzers within rifle range of Indian Army deployment at Spanggur Gap in the southern part of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, even as Indian troops are on high alert.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army made provocative military deployments at Spanggur Gap, which is between Gurung Hill and Magar Hill, from August 30 after Indian soldiers seized tactical heights on the ridgeline on the southern bank of Pangong Tso near Chushul at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“Seeing the Chinese PLA troop and guns mobilisation, the Indian Army too made mirror deployments at Spanggur Gap. Both the countries’ troops and guns are within shooting range,” said a government official.

Further, sources said, China has deployed its militia squads to “consolidate the border” and “stabilise Tibet region”. They have been tasked to try and dislodge the Indian Army soldiers from the tactical heights.

The militia is an irregular mix of mountaineers, boxers, members of local fight clubs and others. Most of the members are raised from the local population.

“Militia is basically a reserve force of the Chinese’s People Liberation Army. They are deployed during wartime situations and to help the PLA in its military operations,” said a senior government officer.

The officer also said that the Chinese militia also conducts independent operations and provides combat support and manpower replenishment to the PLA.

Indian Army has clearly reiterated that the forces will retaliate if Chinese troops make provocative military moves.

At the northern bank of Pangong Lake, sources said that even as PLA troops continue to occupy positions on Finger 4 mountain spur jutting into the lake, Indian soldiers have occupied some heights overlooking their positions.

“Our troops have occupied some heights overlooking the positions occupied by PLA,” said a source.

The north bank of the lake is divided into 8 ‘Fingers’ that are contested by both sides. India claims Line of Actual Control at finger 8 and had been holding on to area till Finger 4 but in a clear alteration of status quo the Chinese have been camping at Finger 4 and have set up fortifications between Finger 5 and 8.

Movement of Chinese troops, vehicles and new defence mechanisms of Chinese are visible in the north, south banks of Pangong Lake. In some places, heavily armed troops are in close proximity.

To de-escalate the situation, armies of India and China are holding interaction daily.

India and China are engaged in a four-month-long standoff at the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Despite several levels of dialogue, there has not been any breakthrough and the deadlock continues.

To prevent the situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh from further escalating, the armies of India and China held an interaction on Saturday where they discussed withdrawing forces from the points where there are in eyeball-to-eyeball situations.

Brigade commanders of both sides met at Chushul and held an interaction from 11 am to 3 pm but the talks remained “inconclusive”.

Both the countries’ military delegates are continuously in talks since September 7, the day Chinese People’s Liberation Army made a provocative move to occupy Indian territory at the LAC that was thwarted by the Indian Army.

Both countries have now decided to hold their sixth round of top-level military talks within the next few days. The corps commanders – 14 Corps commander Lt-General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin have not met since August 2.

A senior government officer stated there is a complete breakdown of trust between both the militaries. China has mobilised thousands of soldiers, tanks and howitzers within shooting distance of each other in the Pangong Tso-Chushul area.

Indian soldiers then swiftly seized tactical heights on the ridgeline stretching from Thakung on the southern bank of Pangong Tso to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La (Rechin mountain pass), and other height features near Chushul to pre-empt the Chinese army activities there.

The Chinese have since made multiple attempts to dislodge Indian troops from mountain heights.

India has also found that the Chinese side has started troop, artillery and armour build-up in three sectors of the LAC — western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh).

India and China are engaged in a four-month-long standoff at the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Despite several levels of dialogue, there has been no breakthrough and the deadlock continues.

Five youngsters from Arunachal Pradesh, who went missing on September 2 but were later found to be in Chinese territory, were handed over to India by the People’s Liberation Army on Saturday amid the ongoing stand-off between the two sides at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.

The five returned to India nearly 10 days after they were allegedly abducted, defence sources said.

The youth was handed over to Indian authorities in Damai near Kibithu in Anjaw district of eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

“The Indian Army took custody of the five individuals at Kibitu on Saturday after completing all the formalities. They will now be quarantined for 14 days as per Covid-19 protocol and thereafter handed over to their families,” Defence PRO Lt Col Harsh Wardhan Pande said in a statement.

The Kibithu (Arunachal)-Damai (China) area is a place where Indian and Chinese armies hold border meetings.

Local media had reported that Toch Singkam, Prasat Ringling, Dongtu Ebiya, Tanu Baker, and Ngaru Diri — all belonging to the Tagin community — had gone to the forest for hunting when they were reportedly kidnapped near Nacho in Upper Subansiri district.

The PLA had on Tuesday conveyed to the Indian Army that the five youth, who went missing on the Sino-Indian border in Upper Subansiri district, was found by them in their territory.

Defence sources had said that persistent efforts of the Indian Army led to the whereabouts of five missing hunters, who had inadvertently crossed the LAC.

Lt Col Pande said that Arunachal Pradesh is known for its rich natural heritage and adventurous people fond of exploring the nature for medicinal herbs and possessing a traditional flair for hunting, which involves surviving off the land for weeks in jungles and far-flung remote areas.

“During such adventurous forays, at times, youth inadvertently stray to another side of LAC. The Indian Army has always been proactive in tracing the lost locals and helping them return home. Three such incidents, including the latest one, took place in the current year in Upper Subansiri and West Siang districts. All such individuals were brought back home safely after consistent efforts and coordination by the Indian Army,” he said in a release.

The defence spokesman said: “The Indian Army had approached the PLA on the hotline to trace and return the youths. On September 8, a response on the hot-line confirmed that the missing individuals had been traced. The Indian Army, true to its ethos, has once again worked tirelessly for the well-being of the people of north-east.”

According to the local media, the incident first came to light when two members of the group returned home from the forest and informed the villagers that the five were “abducted” by the PLA from Sera-7, an Indian Army patrol zone located about 12 km further north of Nacho.

Nacho is the last administrative circle along the McMahon line and is around 120 km from the Upper Subansiri district headquarters Daporijo, which is itself 280 km from state capital Itanagar. Arunachal Pradesh’s northeast region shares a 1,080 km-long border with China.

Union Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on Friday announced that the PLA had confirmed to the Indian Army to hand over the youths from Arunachal Pradesh to India.

On Tuesday, he had said that the PLA had responded to the hotline message from the Indian Army about the youths.

Congress’ Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, Gaurav Gogoi, had urged Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to ensure the safe return of the five youths amid local media reports that the youths had been kidnapped.

On September 3, the Indian Army had provided food, warm clothes, and medical assistance to three Chinese who had lost their way in sub-zero temperatures in a border area in north Sikkim, at an altitude of 17,500 feet.

The Indian troops deployed in the area also guided these Chinese, including a woman, to return home. The Chinese expressed gratitude to India and the Indian Army for their prompt assistance. (IANS)