Tensions escalate between Indian and Chinese forces along their disputed Himalayan border after accusations that shots were fired for the first time in 45 years. China claims Indian soldiers crossed over the contested border in Ladakh, known as the line of actual control (LAC), and “opened fire to threaten the Chinese border defence patrol officers”. China also claims it responded to the “severe military provocation” with unspecified counter-measures. But India was quick to reject this version of events. The Indian army accused Chinese troops of “provocative activities” by attempting to move in on its troops positioned strategically along southern Pangong lake and then firing in the air to intimidate them. It was the first time shots have been reportedly fired along the border since 1975, when four Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush. Neither side reported casualties but the incident marked a further deterioration of the souring relationship between the two nuclear-armed countries, who have been engaged in an increasingly aggressive standoff long their western border in Ladakh.
Around 40 to 50 PLA soldiers, armed with spears and other sharp-edged weapons as well as guns, have come just a few metres from the Indian Army position on the heights north of Rezang La in eastern Ladakh, and are likely to make a fresh attempt to dislodge the Indian soldiers, sources said on Tuesday.
The fresh incident comes a day after Monday’s skirmish where Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops indulged in provocative military movements and also fired shots to intimidate Indian soldiers, as per the Indian Army. China, too, accused India of doing the same.
With tensions escalating again, the Indian security brass held several rounds of deliberations. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met top security officials, and was also briefed by Army chief, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, about the emerging situation.
Monday’s incident took place near Shenpao mountain close to Rezang La on the south bank of Pangong Tso (lake).
The Indian Army, in a statement, said that China continues to “undertake provocative activities to escalate” the situation at the border and it was the PLA troops who “fired a few rounds in the air” in an attempt to intimidate Indian troops.
“At no stage has the Indian Army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing,” Indian Army spokesperson, Col Aman Anand said.
The army stated that it is the Chinese side that has been “blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres, while engagement at the military, diplomatic and political level is in progress”.
“In the instant case on September 7, 2020, it was the PLA troops who were attempting to close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC and when dissuaded by own troops, the PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate own troops,” Col Anand said.
However, despite the grave provocation, Indian troops “exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner”, he added.
“The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and tranquility, however, it is also determined to protect national integrity and sovereignty at all costs. The statement from the (PLA’s) Western Theatre Command is an attempt to mislead their domestic and international audience.”
On Monday, the Chinese Army issued a statement that the Indian Army “blatantly fired threats” to the patrol of the Chinese border guards who had made a representation, and these border guards were forced to take “countermeasures to stabilise the situation on the ground”.
“India’s actions seriously violated the relevant agreements and the agreements between China and India, pushing up regional tensions and easily causing misunderstandings and misjudgments,” Western Theatre Command spokesperson, Colonel Zhang Shuili, said in a statement.
The Indian Army has occupied crucial heights in areas around the south bank of Pangong lake and the Chinese have made several attempts to dislodge the Indian troops from these positions.
The area has become the new friction point but the Indian Army seems be in an advantageous position, as its possession of these heights allows it to dominate the Chinese Moldo garrison and the Spangur Gap under Chinese control.
Both Indian and China lay claim to some of these heights.
One of the most critical heights the Indian Army is manning is the Rechin La, which the Chinese are protesting against.
From here, the Indian Army enjoys a vantage point not just for Chinese army military bases on the south bank of the Pangong lake but can also be in range of the Finger 4 area north of the lake.
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.
Meanwhjile, five persons from Arunachal Pradesh, who went missing on Friday, have been found in the Chinese territory, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju said on Tuesday.
Rijiju, the Union Youth Affairs and Sports Minister and an MP from Arunachal Pradesh, said in a tweet: “China’s PLA has responded to the hotline message sent by Indian Army. They have confirmed that the missing youths from Arunachal Pradesh have been found on their side. Further modalities to handover the persons to our authority are being worked out.”
When contacted, Upper Subansiri district Superintendent of Police Taru Gussar said that he is very busy with the developments and can’t speak to the media at the moment.
Earlier on Tuesday morning, Gussar had said that the family members of the five missing persons, who many suspected were kidnapped by the Chinese PLA soldiers, didn’t inform the police.
“People from this area go to the forest for hunting, which is a traditional practice among the tribals of this region. I cannot say anything till I get any confirmation about what exactly happened,” Gussar had told IANS over phone.
Earlier in the day, Congress’ deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Gaurav Gogoi, had urged Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to ensure the safe return of the five youth from Arunachal Pradesh.
“I am writing to you to register my grave concern regarding the condition of the five young men from Arunachal Pradesh who have gone missing from the Upper Subansiri district during a hunting exercise. Their family members have made statements alleging that they have been abducted, holding the Chinese People’s Liberation Army responsible for the incident,” Gogoi wrote to Rajnath Singh.
Rijiju had earlier said that the Indian Army has sent a hotline message to the PLA about the reported abduction of five persons from Arunachal Pradesh.
The state’s Directorate of Information and Public Relations had earlier tweeted: “Arunachal Govt is closely monitoring the case of 5 missing boys in Nacho village, Upper Subansiri District. District Administration has been directed to assist all concerned agencies to trace the missing boys.”
The local media in Arunachal Pradesh had also reported that the reported kidnappings occurred in a forest area near Nacho in Upper Subansiri. According to media reports, the abducted persons — Toch Singkam, Prasat Ringling, Dongtu Ebiya, Tanu Baker and Ngaru Diri, all from the Tagin community — had gone to the forest for hunting. Two other villagers, who had managed to flee the spot, had informed the other villagers.
The India-China border is about 170 km from Daporijo, the headquarters of Upper Subansiri district, which itself is 280 km from state capital Itanagar. A team from the Nacho police station has been sent to the forward area village.
Arunachal Pradesh’s northeast section shares a 1,080 km-long border with China. (IANS)