Amid Doklam stand-off, Chinese troops briefly enter ‘demilitarized zone’ in Uttarakhand

NEW DELHI: Chinese soldiers continue to intrude across the Line of Actual Control into Indian territory in different sectors to lay claim to disputed areas, even as the tense troop stand-off in Doklam area near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction remains locked in a stalemate on the ground.

In the latest such incident, 10-15 soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army “transgressed” almost 1 km into a disputed pocket – a mutually agreed “demilitarized zone” – at Barahoti in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand on July 25. Though they left around two hours later, sources said a similar incident took place in the same area on Sunday as well.

Government sources however played down the Barahoti transgressions, holding that similar incidents had happened in the area in the past also and were normally sorted out by the local commanders. “Transgressions occur due to differing perceptions between India and China about where the LAC actually lies, right from eastern Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. Around 300 such transgressions by the PLA are recorded every year,” said a source.

But the timing of the Barahoti incidents is significant, much like the earlier transgressions in Depsang and Chumar (eastern Ladakh) in 2013 and 2014 that were timed around top-level bilateral meetings. The first transgression on July 25 occurred just three days before national security advisor Ajit Doval was slated to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials in Beijing, while the second happened after he had returned to India after the BRICS meet there.

Moreover, China remains adamant about Indian troops unilaterally withdrawing from the ongoing face-off in the Doklam area, which is actually Bhutanese territory but coveted by China. The Doklam imbroglio, of course, is different from the usual transgressions across the LAC since it is located in a third country (Bhutan), and India has reinforced its military posture near the tri-junction in the face of escalating rhetoric from China.

Both Indian and Chinese armies, of course, conduct “aggressive patrolling” along all the three sectors of the 4,057-km long LAC – western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) – to strengthen their claims to disputed territories. Eastern Ladakh, in particular, has remained a major flashpoint over the last several years.

Transgressions in the middle sector are relatively rare. On July 25, the Chinese troops entered almost 1 km inside the disputed area in Barahoti to threaten Indian shepherds who were grazing their cattle in the area at about 9 am, said ITBP officials. After ITBP troops reached the spot, the Chinese troops quietly went back to their territory without any “contact or standoff”. But they returned on Sunday morning, before leaving once again after marking their presence.

While Indian Army soldiers do not enter the demilitarized zone at Barahoti, an 80 sq km sloping pasture about 140 km from Dehradun, ITBP troops also patrol the area with their weapons in a non-combative mode or with the barrels facing down there.

India and China in 1958 had listed Barahoti as a disputed area where neither side would send their troops. In the 1962 war, the PLA did not enter the middle sector and focused on western and eastern ones.

In June 2000, India had unilaterally agreed that ITBP troops would not carry arms in the three posts of Barahoti as well as Kauril and Shipki (Himachal). ITBP men, in fact, often patrol in civil dress in the area, with Indian shepherds from border villages tending their sheep and people from Tibet bringing their yaks for grazing in the pasture.

 

Source: Times Of India

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