Updated: August 7, 2021 6:47:41 am
Six months after they stepped back on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, Chinese and Indian troops have disengaged at Patrolling Point 17A near Gogra Post in eastern Ladakh after a 15-month standoff.
Troops have returned to their respective permanent bases — this means that PLA troops have returned to their side of the Line of Actual Control. Other friction points remain and the standoff, which began in May 2020, is not entirely resolved.
The agreement to disengage from PP17A was reached during the 12th round of Corps Commander talks held on July 31. China, however, is yet to pull back its troops from PP15 at Hot Springs. The PLA is also blocking Indian soldiers from accessing patrolling limits in the Depsang Plains, and some “so-called civilians” have pitched tents on the Indian side of the LAC in Demchok.
In a statement Friday, the Indian Army said: “As per the agreement, both sides have ceased forward deployments in this area in a phased, coordinated and verified manner. The disengagement process was carried out over two days” on August 4 and August 5.
“The troops of both sides are now in their respective permanent bases,” the Army said.
It said “all temporary structures and other allied infrastructure created in the area by both sides have been dismantled and mutually verified,” and the “landform in the area has been restored by both sides to pre-standoff period”.
“This agreement ensures that the LAC in this area will be strictly observed and respected by both sides, and that there is no unilateral change in status quo.”
It said that “with this” disengagement, “one more sensitive area of face-off has been resolved” and the two sides “have expressed commitment to take the talks forward and resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in the Western Sector”.
The Army said that during the talks on July 31, the two sides “had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on resolution of remaining areas related to disengagement” along the LAC in eastern Ladakh and “as an outcome of the meeting, both sides agreed on disengagement in the area of Gogra” where the troops had been “in a face-off situation since May last year”.
“The Indian Army along with ITBP is totally committed to ensure the sovereignty of the nation and maintain peace & tranquility along the LAC in the Western Sector,” it said.
Sources in the defence establishment said like the disengagement at other friction points, there will be a temporary no-patrolling zone on either side of the LAC, which will be strictly adhered to by forces on both sides. The general understanding for such zones, sources said, is between 1.5 km to 2 km on either side.
The issue of PP15 (Hot Springs) had also been discussed during the talks between the Corps Commanders, but a consensus could not be reached, as China did not agree to disengage from there.
The Indian delegation was led by Lt Gen PGK Menon, Commander of the XIV Corps which is responsible for the LAC in eastern Ladakh. For China, Major Gen Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military District, led the delegation to the talks.
When troops had disengaged from PP14 in Galwan Valley in June last year, after clashes left 20 Indian and at least four Chinese personnel dead, a buffer zone of 1.7 km on each side of the LAC was created. Similarly, after disengagement from Finger 4 on the north bank of Pangong Tso in February this year, both sides had gone back to their permanent bases –India west of Finger 3, and China east of Finger 8 — and the entire region was made a temporary no-patrolling zone.
The two armies also disengaged from the south bank of the lake, in the Chushul sub-sector. India vacated the peaks of Kailash Range which it had captured in August 2020. The two sides had faced off in the area, deploying troops and tanks a few hundred metres apart.
PP17A is the fourth friction point where disengagement has been completed. At PP17A and PP15, disengagement had begun in June 2020, but China did not complete the process and had left platoon-sized units at both these points on the Indian side of the LAC.
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