India, China troops step back, but stay put in vicinity
In what looks like lowering of tension between the armies of India and China at Burtse in northern Ladakh, the two sides have agreed to hold a flag meeting to resolve irksome issues. Troops on either side have “stepped back” by a couple of km, but continue to stay put in the area.
The flag meeting of local commanders of the two armies was proposed for today, but the plan did not materialise. Now the two sides have agreed to hold a flag meeting “very soon”, according to sources on the Indian side.
The meeting could take place any time this week, depending on the logistics, they added. The nearest border personnel meeting (BPM) point from Burtse is at Daulat Baig Oldie, at an altitude of 16,800 feet.
Sources told The Tribune that soldiers of either side have “stepped back”, but with technological aids (UAVs and the long-range reconnaissance and observation system), we can see the People Liberation Army (PLA) of China troops within a few km of the flashpoint at Burtse.
The situation has not escalated since Saturday when troops on either side showed banners to each other, asking the other side to withdraw. Unfurling banners is part of the 2005 protocol on border management to prevent gun-toting troops from reacting in the “heat-of-the-moment”. The banner showing went on for a few hours. India had ramped up its military presence on seeing a Chinese build-up on the other side.
The recent flare-up was triggered after the PLA built a watchtower—a kind of fully serviced solar-powered hut at an altitude of 17,000 feet. The Chinese construction was bang on the “border patrolling line”. The Indian Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) protested. The hut also had a camera that recorded the movement of Indian troops in the area.
The “border patrolling line” is a way to address areas where even the alignment of un-demarcated LAC is disputed. The LAC alignment is roughly accepted by both sides in Lakakh, but some pockets remain where the “border patrolling line” is the accepted principle.
This is an informal un-demarcated line and troops on either side patrol the areas that they perceive as their own. The border patrolling line is the farthest point to which military patrols come from the Chinese side.
The Burtse area, being adjacent to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), forms part of huge Depsang plains perceived by India as its own territory. However, China claims it to be its territory as it gives it a tactical edge over the area, including the airfield that was made operational by the Indian Air Force (IAF) a few years ago.
The area was in news in April 2013 when a 21-day stand-off between troops of either side ended after four flag meetings between the two sides. Then the PLA had pitched five tents in the area and claimed it was part of the Chinese territory.