NEW DELHI: The already tense military confrontation in eastern Ladakh has taken yet another turn for the worse, with bullets being fired along the Line of Actual Control for the first time in 45 years.
India on Tuesday said Chinese troops fired in the air in an attempt to intimidate Indian troops at a forward lo cation called Mukhpari Top in Chushul sector of eastern Ladakh on Monday evening. Top government sources said Indian troops responded in a similar vein, firing a couple of warning shots.
The incident, however, was well short of an “exchange of fire” and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) did not further press the confrontation. The aggressive attempt by PLA soldiers, armed with assault rifles as well as medieval weapons like spears and machetes, in their bid to dislodge Indian soldiers from the Mukhpari height at an altitude of over 18,000 feet on the ridgeline north of Rezang La, has led to yet another faceoff situation in the area.
“Around 40 PLA soldiers are still there, within shouting distance of our position at the top. Our well-entrenched troops are standing their ground,” an official said. “At no stage has the
transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing,” an Army statement said.
The Chinese decision to issue a late-night statement on Monday suggesting that things had taken a serious turn was intended to whip up a sense of urgency, said Indian sources, who added that it was most unlike the PLA to issue a hurried response.
The PLA has fully realised that Indian troops are there to stay at the heights they proactively occupied on the ridgeline stretching from the southern bank of
at Thakung to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La on August 29-30.
and defence minister Rajnath Singh were briefed by officials about the latest escalation in the over-four-month-old military confrontation, which has seen both India and China deploy over 35,000 troops each as well as scores of tanks, howitzers, surface-to-air missiles and other weapon systems along the frontier in eastern Ladakh.
Firearms were not used even during the violent clashes in
on June 15, which left 20 Indian and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers dead though the PLA troops were armed with rods and stones. The face-off near Mukhpari, the highest feature among the multiple tactical heights occupied by Indian troops in the pre-emptive military manoeuvre in the Chushul sector, began when the PLA troops “attempted to close in” to the Indian position at 6.15pm on Monday. It was detected by the Indian soldiers positioned on Mukhpari Top, who then used megaphones and floodlights to “dissuade” them.
“When dissuaded by our troops, PLA personnel fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate our troops. However, despite the grave provocation, our troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner,” an Army statement said.
“It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres, while engagements at military, diplomatic and political level are in progress,” it said. The Army also said that the statement issued by China’s Western Theatre Command late on Monday was “an attempt to mislead their domestic and international audience”.
The WTC had accused Indian troops of “illegally crossing the line” to enter the south bank of Pangong Tso and the Shenpao mountain area and “outrageously firing shots” in a “serious military provocation” of “a very bad nature”. The PLA is incensed that over 3,000 Indian troops, heavily armed with rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and other weapons, are now well-entrenched on the tactical heights at altitudes over 15,000 feet.
From there, Indian soldiers have a clear line of sight of the crucial PLA Moldo garrison, roads and the ingress route for tanks through
, as was earlier reported byTOI. The heights were left largely unoccupied since the 1962 war due to a mutual understanding.
But in the backdrop of the PLA refusing to vacate the 8km stretch from “Finger-4 to 8” on the north bank of Pangong Tso, India had no option but to prevent it from doing the same on the southern side of Pangong Tso, said officials. One of the battles during the 1962 war, incidentally, was fought at Rezang La, where Indian troops were outnumbered by Chinese soldiers who had also secured the Mukhpari Top. “This time we have taken Mukhpari and other heights in the region,” an official said.