JAMMU, Sept 15: Tensions between India and China de-escalated today after five days’ standoff at Burtse along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh sector following two simultaneous two hours long flag meetings between top officers of Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China in which the two sides agreed to maintain peace along the LAC and resolve the issues mutually.
Top official sources told the Excelsior that after high level flag meetings at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) and Chushul sectors along the LAC between Indian and PLA Army officials from 3 pm to 5 pm today, the two sides agreed to maintain peace and retreat the troops to their old position in Burtse. They also agreed that there will be no constructions in the “disputed” territory close to the LAC by either side.
“This was major diplomatic victory for India as five days standoff between Indian Army and PLA ended along the LAC with Army holding the positions firmly at Burtse and refusing to return watch tower, camera and other materials to the PLA till they retreat to their original position,” sources said.
The meeting at DBO sector was attended by General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Infantry Division Maj Gen Y K Joshi while at Chushul, the Commander 70 Mountain Brigade Brigadier JKS Virk joined the meeting. Officers of the rank of Senior Colonels of the PLA, equivalent to the rank of Brigadier in the Indian Army, represented China at the meeting.
This was for the first time during Sino-Indian standoffs that the two sides held two simultaneous flag meetings of the ranks of senior officers and decided to resolve their issues.
Sources said the Army officials of the two countries reached a broad agreement to maintain peace along the LAC in Ladakh sector and resolve the disputes, if any, by holding the flag meetings at the Border Meeting Points (BMPs).
In significant breakthrough, the two sides agreed not to undertake any construction in “disputed” areas along the LAC as there was large un-demarcated boundary and both sides claimed some of the areas belonged to them.
During the meetings, the Chinese side was asked about the alleged violation by building of hut 1.5 km deep inside the perceived Indian territory in Burtse, the sources said, adding “both sides agreed to adhere to no defence construction along the LAC”.
In the meeting at DBO, the Indian side presented camera as an evidence to the PLA of the illegal construction. The Chinese side reportedly agreed that the camera belonged to them but maintained that the construction activity took place due to un-demarcated boundary. However, the meeting was held in very cordial atmosphere.
The tensions between the two sides had also erupted over construction of watch tower by the PLA jawans about 500 meters deep inside the Indian territory with a view to keep vigil on the troops. India had gone aggressive and not only dismantled the watch tower in early hours of Friday but also seized camera and other material of the PLA and refused to return them till the PLA soldiers retreat to their original positions.
According to sources, the officers of Indian Army and PLA agreed to hold more meetings at the BMPs in the next few days to discuss rest of the issues for maintenance of complete peace and tranquility on the LAC.
After the meeting, the two sides somewhat moved back their troops from their forward positions at the incident site located at an altitude of 17,000 feet in the Depsang plains. Both sides had earlier rushed additional troops to the Burtse area after Indian soldiers had demolished the watch tower, which consisted of a camera and solar-panel mounted on a hut’s roof, after spotting it on the “border patrolling line”.
Though both sides send patrols to this line as per their “perception” of where the un-demarcated LAC lies, the mutually-accepted principle was today reiterated that no new construction should come up in the disputed stretches.
Though the troop face-offs and “transgressions”” are quite common along the three sectors of the 4,057km LAC – western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) – due to “aggressive patrolling” but eastern Ladakh in particular has emerged as a major flashpoint in recent years.
The Depsang Valley was also the site of the 21-day face-off between the two Armies in April-May 2013 after PLA troops had intruded 19km into Indian territory. Another prolonged standoff, with around 1,000 soldiers from each side in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at Chumar and Demchok, had taken place in September last year.
Chushul, which is located near the breathtaking Pangong lake, is one of the five officially agreed BPM points between India and China, where Army officers from both sides can meet and sort out differences along the border.
The other four BPMs are in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. BPM point on the LAC near DBO was operationalised last month.
China has been trying to make inroads in Burtse area as it will give access to the PLA to monitor the activities of Indian troops based in Old Patol base besides trying to deny an advantage to India to overlook the Karakoram highway linking the territory illegally occupied by China with Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK).
Besides, India has an Advanced Ground Landing (AGL) facility in DBO which was activated in August 2013 and the Indian Air Force(IAF) had managed to land a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft at the air strip located at 16,614 feet above sea level.
The initial existence of a hut was seen first on a satellite imagery after which a joint patrol of ITBP and Army was sent to the area to have a report from ground zero. Later, it was decided to demolish the hut which prompted the PLA to reach the area resulting in a face-off.
Indian troops displayed the banners in Chinese asking the PLA to return to their side, the officials said.
India and China share over 4,000 km of LAC. China claims approximately 90,000 sq km of territory in Arunachal Pradesh besides 38,000 sq km in Jammu and Kashmir sector.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei claimed in Beijing that no face-off had taken place in the border area and said “the Chinese border troops have been performing their duties on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).”
He was responding to a question in Beijing on new stand-off at Ladakh where Indian troops removed a hut built by the PLA troops that had camera and other facilities.
This is a consistent position maintained by China since the first Depsang stand-off broke out during the visit of Premier Li Keqiang in 2013 to India, asserting that the PLA troops are carrying out activities in their side of the border.