Indian, Chinese Troops Disengage from Himalayan Border Area

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NEW DELHI - Indian and Chinese troops have pulled back from a disputed border area in the Himalayas where soldiers from both sides had been facing off for over a year, according to the Indian army.

Although the announcement marks progress in the resolving border disputes that have worsened ties between the two Asian countries, other points of friction persist.

The withdrawal from the Gogra area in eastern Ladakh marked the second round of disengagement this year. It came six months after India and China pulled back troops from a strategic Himalayan Lake, Pangong Tso, that had emerged as their most serious flashpoint in decades and led to a massive military buildup in the region.

An Indian army statement Friday said that both sides had dismantled “temporary structures erected by them along with allied infrastructure, with the actions being mutually verified.” It said that troops were back in their “respective permanent bases and that “the landform in the area has been restored by both sides to the pre-standoff period.”

The agreement was reached at talks between military commanders of the two sides held last Saturday.

The Indian army statement said that “With this one more sensitive area of face-off has been resolved” and that both sides have expressed their commitment “to take the talks forward and resolve the remaining issues along the LAC.”

The LAC refers to the line of actual control that marks the unsettled border in the Himalayas between the two countries.

“It is a step in the right direction because these are points of potential conflict that are sought to be cooled down,” according to Jayadeva Ranade, head of the Center for China Analysis and Strategy in New Delhi. “But it is very limited progress. They have to start addressing the bigger issues in other areas that would lead to thinning out of forces massed along the Himalayan border.”

The standoff in Ladakh between India and China began in April last year and led to deadly hand-to-hand combat that killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers.

The pullback in the Gogra area took place three weeks after the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers met in mid-July in Tajikistan on the sidelines of a regional meeting.

Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar had said that any unilateral change in the status quo along their disputed border was "not acceptable" to India and that overall ties can only develop after “full restoration of peace and tranquility” in eastern Ladakh.

In a statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had said that “China-India relations still stay at a low level, which is not in the interest of either side” and called on the two sides to find a solution to the border issue through dialogue and consultation.

The most serious dispute between the two countries centers on an area known as Depsang Plain, according to Bharat Karnad, a strategic affairs expert at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “That is really the crux because it allows Indian troops access to a key Himalayan pass. It is critical to restore status quo here but it will be a challenge to do that in this strategic point.”

China denies that its troops have crossed the border between the two countries.

Source: Voice of America