Ajay Banerjee & Ashok Tuteja, Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 24. Close on the heels of Chinese troops entering the Indian territory in northern Ladakh and refusing to budge from their current position, two Chinese military helicopters have violated Indian airspace at Chumar in southeastern Ladakh, adding to the prevailing tension between the two countries.
With China virtually rejecting India’s demand that status quo be restored along the border, India is planning to set up more permanent posts closer to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and has pressed in additional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to maintain an eye on Chinese movements.
Two Chinese military copters entered the Indian airspace in the Chumar sector on April 21, top sources confirmed. The incident occurred on April 21 and in the middle of the ongoing stalemate near Daulat Beg Oldie in northern Ladakh, where Chinese soldiers pitched a tent on April 15. The Indian side had responded on April 18 by rushing in its troops.
The helicopters hovered over the area for quite some time and returned only after dropping some food cans, cigarette packets and hand-written notes, sources said. Brigadier B M Gupta had raised the matter with his Chinese counterpart senior Colonel Ayan Yanti at the flag meeting held yesterday.
Last September, Chinese helicopters flew over Chumar with some of its troops even getting onto the ground. The troops destroyed bunkers and old tents of the Indian Army before returning to their own airspace. Chumar is around 300 km southeast of Leh and lies close to India’s high-altitude astronomical observatory at Hanle.
Large swathes of the LAC, which has no definite alignment, are patrolled by Indian troops on a regular basis. At least five sections of the LAC are disputed in eastern Ladakh. Permanent posts, however, are few and far away from each other. The latest incursion by Chinese in northern Ladakh means that India will have to take a proactive role to protect its interests, sources said.
Unlike, the Line of Control (LoC) on the western front with Pakistan, the existing rules of engagement along the LAC do not entail having a post after a fixed distance. There are very few posts where the troops of either side eyeball-to eyeball. The distance from the LAC is mandated under peace agreements by the two sides since 1993.
Sources said the developments in the past one week have forced New Delhi to review its strategy along the LAC. So far, the peace agreement and modalities on confidence-building measures (CBM’s) were working. Whenever soldiers of either side came face-to-face due to varying perception of the LAC alignment, they withdrew as mandated under the April 2005 agreement. But now the dynamics have changed.
The latest intrusion by Chinese troops has taken place at Raki Nallah, east of Daulat Beg Oldie – India’s advanced landing ground (ALG). The area is manned by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. However, Army troops were rushed in to counter the Chinese.
After two meetings proved unfruitful, a Commander-level flag meeting is likely to take place on April 26.
Official sources were, however, confident that the issue would be settled through negotiations between the two sides. On being asked about the fate of upcoming bilateral visit of Chinese Premier to India in the wake of the latest border row, Indian officials said as of now the scheduled visit of new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was on.
Li would visit India in the third week of May. The two sides were working on his programme in India.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, meanwhile, said the two countries were in touch to settle the matter while emphasising that New Delhi and Beijing had differing perception of the LAC. China yet again asserted it had not violated the LAC, virtually rejecting India’s demand that status quo be restored along the border. “I want to reiterate that Chinese troops have been acting in strict compliance with the bilateral agreements and conducting normal patrol on their side of the LAC. They have never crossed the line,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in Beijing.
India, on its part, has sent its Army delegation to Beijing to finalise the dates of bilateral military exercise expected to be held later this year. The delegation has been sent to avoid any escalation in the situation. A Brigadier from the Military Operations is heading it and will finalise the date for the third edition of the hand-to-hand exercise between the two sides after a gap of four years. The exercise is expected to be held in September-October this year, said Indian officials.