India reinforces flashpoint area as China holds ground: Sources

An Indian air force helicopter flies above mountains near Leh, Ladakh, June 24, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LEH, INDIA (AFP) - Indian fighter jets roared over a flashpoint Himalayan region on Wednesday (June 24) as part of a show of strength following what military sources say has been 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 June 15, the Indian military sources told AFP.

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

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

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

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

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

"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.


Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Wednesday called on India to observe previous bilateral agreements and "work with China to take concrete actions and resume peace and stability in the border areas".

Beijing had made similar calls for resolution after a fist-fight in May that proved to be a warm-up 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 near the scene of the fighting. It was not clear which side they belonged to.

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, with rudimentary weapons.

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 and military sources told AFP.

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


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."

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.

"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."

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