India reinforces flashpoint area as China holds ground: Sources

India reinforces flashpoint area as China holds ground: Sources

Indian jets are regularly taking off from a military base in Leh
Indian jets are regularly taking off from a military base in Leh AFP/Tauseef MUSTAFA

LEH, India: Indian fighter jets roared over a flashpoint Himalayan region on Wednesday (Jun 24).

Indian military sources said the move was part of a show of strength following what they called a Chinese takeover of contested territory.

Chinese forces have held onto a chunk of land covering several square kilometres at the mouth of the Galwan valley following a deadly brawl there on Jun 15, the Indian military sources told AFP.

The two sides publicly declared they would pull back following the clash, which saw 20 Indian soldiers killed in a battle involving rocks and nail-studded batons.

But both have maintained troops around the valley, with India deploying more forces and trying to project military might.

Indian jets regularly took off Wednesday from a military base in Leh, the main Indian town in the contested region, and headed towards the mountainous border 240 kilometres away.

There were also checkpoints on main roads out Leh and a frenzy of military activity around the main town, which lies at 3,500m above sea level.

China and India fought a border war in 1962
China and India fought a border war in 1962 AFP/Tauseef MUSTAFA

Residents reported long lines of military trucks and artillery on roads near Leh.

"We now have a good strength present in the area," an official of the Indian army's Northern Command told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to the reinforcements.

Tashi Chhepal, a retired Indian army captain who has served in the area and is based in Leh, said the mobilisation was unprecedented in a sensitive region touching Pakistan as well as China.

"I haven't seen this kind of military movement before," he told AFP.

CHINA GAINS

After the latest round of talks between military commanders on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the two sides had "agreed to take necessary measures to promote a cooling of the situation".

But they made similar comments after a fist-fight in May that proved to be a warmup for the medieval-style battle at Galwan.

Images taken on Sunday by the US satellite firm Maxar showed trucks and huts at camps on the river at 4,500 metres near the scene of the fighting. It was not clear whose army they were.

The two countries fought a border war in 1962, but this month's fighting was their deadliest encounter in 53 years.

According to Indian military sources, Chinese troops ambushed Indian soldiers and forced them down a ridge where they had gone to remove a Chinese "encroachment".

A bilateral accord prevents the use of guns, but the fighting was still fierce, reportedly with rocks and batons wrapped with barbed wire.

Indian soldiers in a flashpoint Himalayan region also claimed by China and Pakistan
Indian soldiers in a flashpoint Himalayan region also claimed by China and Pakistan AFP/Tauseef MUSTAFA

China has in turn accused Indian soldiers of twice crossing the Line of Actual Control, the unofficial boundary, provoking its troops.

But the Chinese appear to be sticking to their gains at Galwan and the nearby Pangong Tso lake, police intelligence as well as military sources told AFP.

China is now claiming the valley as its own, in statements that India has rejected.

LESSON LEARNT

Indian analysts are dubious of the chances of a major easing of the tensions or that India will reclaim the territory.

Harsh Pant from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi said: "Anything that the Chinese now say can't be taken on face value. India, hopefully, has learnt its lessons now."

Ladakh's border with the Chinese regions of Tibet to the east and Xinjiang to the north make it
Ladakh's border with the Chinese regions of Tibet to the east and Xinjiang to the north make it strategically important to New Delhi. (AFP/Xavier GALIANA)

Amid calls for a boycott of Chinese goods, media reports say Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government could make it more difficult for Chinese companies to do business.

But analysts say there is recognition on both sides that their economies need each other.

READ: India, China hold talks to de-escalate deadly border tensions

"There may be some short term public backlash against China in India, but publicly, Pakistan swamps China as a perceived threat," said Vipin Narang, a security specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"The effects of this crisis, even if it slow burns, may be short lived amongst India's public. And cheap TVs are still cheap TVs."

Source: AFP/kv

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