India-China Standoff: Firearms Used on Ladakh LAC After 45 Years

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Soldiers patrolling an area in the mountainous Ladakh Union Territory. KO File Photo, Abid Bhat

  • PLA Troops Carried Rods, Spears To Capture Peaks
  • Indian, Chinese brigadiers have heated exchange over hotline

New Delhi/Beijing– India on Tuesday said Chinese troops attempted to close in on its position in eastern Ladakh a day earlier and fired shots in the air, in a rapid escalation of tensions where firearms were used along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after 45 years.

The fresh confrontation in Rezang-La ridgeline in eastern Ladakh on Monday evening where the soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA) carried clubs and spears erupted three days after the defence ministers of India and China held talks in Moscow, and ahead of an expected meeting between their foreign ministers in the Russian capital on Thursday.

As India and China accused each other of firing in the air near the Pangong lake at the Line of Actual Control(LAC) in eastern Ladakh on Monday. the Indian Army said that despite the ‘grave provocation’ its troops exercised ‘great restraint’ and behaved in a mature and responsible manner.

‘In the instant case on September 7, it was the PLA troops who were attempting to close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC and when dissuaded by own (Indian) troops, PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate own troops,’ the Army said in a statement. An identical statement was also issued by the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA).

The previous instance of shots being fired at the de-facto border was in 1975. Provisions of an agreement of 1996 and another inked in 2005 mandate the two sides not to use firearms during any confrontation.

The statement by the Indian Army came after the PLA late on Monday night alleged that the Indian troops crossed the LAC and ‘outrageously fired’ warning shots near the Pangong lake.

‘At no stage has the Indian Army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing. It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres, while engagement at military, diplomatic and political level is in progress,’ the Army said.

Government sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the top echelons of the government have been apprised about the situation in eastern Ladakh and the Army has been told to maintain the highest level of alert along the LAC in Ladakh.

On Monday evening’s incident, they said Chinese troops carried rods, spears, clubs and pole weapons called ‘Guandao’ in aggressively trying to close in on an Indian position in Mukhpari area of Rezang-La ridgeline.

The sources said around 50-60 soldiers of PLA approached the Indian post in the southern bank of Pangong lake area at around 6 PM but the Indian Army personnel posted there strongly confronted them, forcing their retreat.

It may be recalled that the Chinese troops had mounted a savage attack on Indian soldiers with stones, nail-studded sticks, iron rods and clubs during the Galwan Valley clashes in eastern Ladakh on June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed.

The sources said the Chinese army may have planned to engage Indian troops on Monday evening in a way similar to the clashes in Galwan Valley as its soldiers were seen carrying rods, spears, clubs and ‘Guandao’.

The sources said Indian troops did not use any firearm, adding the attempt of the Chinese troops was to remove Indian Army from the strategic heights in Mukhpari peak and Rezang-La areas.

The sources said Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a standoff at a location near North of Rezang-La ridgeline around the southern bank of Pangong lake and the number of PLA personnel was around 40.

Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili, a spokesperson of PLA’s Western Theater Command, in a statement on Monday night alleged that Indian troops illegally crossed the LAC and ‘outrageously fired’ warning shots on Chinese border patrol soldiers who were about to negotiate.

Chinese troops were forced to take countermeasures to stabilize the situation, he said without elaborating.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian hoped that disengagement of troops can be achieved as soon as possible through mutual consultations, flagging approaching harsh winter in the region.

He spoke about disengagement when asked at a media briefing about restoration of the status quo by disengaging the troops.

Heavy Mobilisation

Military experts fear China and India’s months-long border dispute could escalate as new satellite images suggest China is ramping up its weapons capabilities in a nearby city.

Satellite images reportedly show the accelerated construction of two new runways at the Hotan airbase, its nearest base to the disputed Ladakh region, according to India Today.

According to Col Vinayak Bhat, a satellite imagery analyst, the stills also showed the construction of new buildings believed to be barracks and ammunition storage facilities.

Ladakh situation very serious

Meanwhile ahead of his expected talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Moscow, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar described the situation in eastern Ladakh as “very serious” which he said calls for “very very deep conversation” between the two sides at a political level.

Jaishankar was speaking at an interactive session by The Indian Express newspaper.

On Monday he said the state of the border with China cannot be de-linked from the state of the overall relationship with the neighboring country.

“The state of the border cannot be de-linked from the state of the relationship. I wrote it before that unfortunate incident happened in Galwan,” Jaishankar said referring to his newly published book ”The India Way”.

Tensions escalated manifold along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh after the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in the line of duty. –With inputs from agencies

Stop ‘Dangerous Actions’: China

In Beijing Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday said that India has been asked to immediately stop its “dangerous actions”, withdraw the people who crossed the line and discipline its front-line troops and those who fired the warning shots and then make sure won’t happen again.

Echoing the PLA’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a media briefing sought to blame Indian troops for firing warning shots first on Monday.

Asked about Indian allegations that it was Chinese troops which took provocative steps first, he read out the statement of the PLA’s Western Theater command spokesman on Monday alleging that Indian troops illegally crossed the LAC and outrageously fired warning shots on Chinese border patrol soldiers forcing them to take countermeasures.

I also want to stress in this incident, the Indian side fired shots to the Chinese border troops first. This is the first time since 1975 that the tranquility is interrupted by the shots. And the Chinese side always stresses that both sides should peacefully settle our differences through dialogue and consultations. Confrontation won’t benefit either, he said.

Asked about what kind of consultations and countermeasures Chinese troops have taken, Zhao said through diplomatic and military channels we have made stern representations asking the Indian side to immediately stop its dangerous actions, immediately withdraw the people who crossed the line and discipline its front-line troops and those who fired the warning shots and then make sure won’t happen again.

Currently I have no further information for you. I believe I made China’s position clear on this, he said when asked whether the PLA troops fired back.

However, Zhao hoped disengagement can be achieved as soon as possible through mutual consultations, flagging approaching harsh winter in the region.

The Indian Army said Chinese troops fired shots in the air and attempted to close in on an Indian position in eastern Ladakh on Monday as it rejected charges by China’s People’s Liberation Army(PLA) that it transgressed across the LAC.

The remarks by the Army came after the PLA late on Monday night alleged that the Indian troops crossed the LAC and “outrageously fired” warning shots near the Pangong lake.

The use of firearms along the LAC marks a serious escalation in border tensions as the previous instance of shots being fired at the de-facto border was in 1975.

Spokesman Zhao spoke about disengagement when asked at a media briefing about restoration of the status quo by disengaging the troops.

You have a good wish. We all hope our troops get back to their camping area and there won’t be any more confrontation in the border areas.

You know that place has a very bad natural condition and it is above a height of 4,000 metres, he added.

In winter this is not good for humans to live. So we hope, through diplomatic and military channels and through consultations on the ground we can achieve disengagement as soon as possible and reach consensus.”

India has already called on China to work jointly for complete disengagement and de-escalation on the LAC, saying the future of the bilateral relationship is dependent on the situation along the border.

This is the first time in the four-month-long border standoff that China has officially acknowledged the harsh conditions of the mountainous Ladakh region in winter where the temperatures plummet to minus 30 degrees Celsius posing major health hazards to the thousands of troops mobilised by the two armies.

Reports from the area said both sides were making arrangements for a long drawn out faceoff especially at the Pangong lake area where the troops were positioned eyeball to eyeball with heavy weapons and armoury.

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