Chinese, Indian troops start disengagement in Ladakh: Chinese Defence Ministry

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The frontline troops of China and India at the south and north banks of the Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh started “synchronised and organised” disengagement from Wednesday, the Chinese defence ministry said, in what is seen as a forward movement in the overall disengagement process to defuse the over nine-month border standoff.

There was no official comment by either the Indian defence ministry or the Indian Army on the Chinese statement but people familiar with the development said both sides are in the process of pulling back their armoured units like tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

The people mentioned above said specific steps like the withdrawal of armoured elements from the friction points were discussed threadbare at the ninth round of high-level military talks on January 24 that lasted for around 16 hours.

The office of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, meanwhile, tweeted that he will make a statement in the RajyaSabha on Thursday on the situation in eastern Ladakh.

“RakshaMantriShri @rajnathsingh will make a statement in RajyaSabha tomorrow regarding ‘Present Situation in Eastern Ladakh’,” it said.

Authoritative sources in the Indian defence and military establishment did not refute the Chinese defence ministry’s statement on the developments in the northern and southern banks of Pangonglake, an area that witnessed major face-offs since the row erupted on May 5.

People familiar with the situation in eastern Ladakh said both sides are in the process of pulling back their armoured units in line with steps agreed upon for overall disengagement in the last round of military talks, adding a clear picture will emerge soon.

“The Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern bank of the PangongTso Lake start synchronised and organised disengagement from February 10,” spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defence Senior Colonel Wu Qian said in a brief statement in Beijing. The statement did not provide details.

“This move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting,” it said.

Separately, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the frontline troops of the Chinese and Indian militaries began to conduct simultaneous and planned disengagement in the Pangong Lake area on Wednesday as per consensus reached at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in Moscow in September and the ninth round of Corps commander-level talks.

“We hope the Indian side will work with China to meet each other halfway, strictly implement the consensus reached between the two sides and ensure the smooth implementation of the disengagement process,” Wang Wenbin said in a statement.

“This move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting,” the official added.

A source in the Indian military and defence establishment said there has been some “forward movements” but at the same time added that India will only go by what is happening on the ground.

Both sides rushed a large number of battle tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy equipment to the treacherous and high-altitude areas of the region after tension escalated following a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in June last.

Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the fierce hand-to-hand combat on June 15 in Galwan Valley, an incident that marked the most serious military conflicts between the two sides in decades.

China is yet to disclose the number of its soldiers killed and injured in the clash though it officially admitted to have suffered casualties. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.

At their ninth round of military talks, the Indian and Chinese armies agreed to push for an “early disengagement” of troops and resolved to continue “effective efforts” to stabilise and control the situation in eastern Ladakh.

“The two sides agreed to continue their effective efforts in ensuring the restraint of the frontline troops, stabilise and control the situation along the Line of Actual Control in the Western Sector of the China-India border, and jointly maintain peace and tranquillity,” said a joint statement after the talks.

India has all along been maintaining that the disengagement process has to start simultaneously at all friction points and no selective approach was acceptable to it.

India was specifically insisting on withdrawal of the troops of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA) from Finger 4 to Finger 8 on the north bank of Pangong Lake. The mountain spurs in the area are referred to as Fingers.

On its part, the Chinese side was insisting on withdrawal of Indian troops from several strategic peaks on the southern bank of the lake.

Around five months back, Indian troops occupied a number of strategic heights in the Mukhpari, Rechin La and Magar hill areas around the southern bank of the Pangonglake after the Chinese military attempted to intimidate them in the area.

Close to 100,000 Indian and Chinese troops are deployed in eastern Ladakh amid continuing diplomatic and military talks to find an amicable solution to the standoff.

Last month, Army chief Gen MM Naravane said that Indian troops will hold their ground as long as it takes to achieve the “national goals and objectives”.

In December last, India and China held another round of diplomatic talks on the border row under the framework of Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on India-China border affairs.