Chinese troops allegedly turned away an Indian team from a disputed area along the international border in Uttarakhand earlier this month, officials said on Wednesday, fracturing a pact to keep the military away from the territory.
Three days later, on July 25, Indian security forces also reported an air intrusion by a Chinese chopper in the same area.
However, the Centre on Wednesday downplayed the incidents amid confusion over the date when the face-off took place.
While Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat said in Dehradun that the incident took place on July 19, Union minister for state Kiren Rijiju gave the date as July 22.
The scene of the face-off was at Barahoti where a picture-postcard grazing ground set against the backdrop of Himalayan peaks form the 80-sq km disputed zone along the international border. Since 1957, both countries are working towards settling the issue through negotiations.
China claims thousands of square kilometres of Indian territory, mostly in Arunachal Pradesh and some areas in Kashmir where thousands of soldiers stand guard on each side of what is known as the line of actual control (LAC).
The latest incident comes in the wake of verbal spats between Delhi and Beijing over several issues including China’s role in denying India a place in the prestigious Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
A home ministry official said that Chinese troops stopped a team of 19 Indian officials headed by the sub-divisional magistrate of Joshimath around 200 metres into the disputed area.
Six personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the force which guards the 3488-km Sino-Indian border from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast, accompanied the team. However, the security personnel were neither in uniform nor armed in keeping with the mutually agreed norm.
“The face-off lasted around half-an-hour. Later, both the Indian team and the Chinese troops went back,” said the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Sources in the ITBP said their job is to escort civil administration officials during their borders visits, which sources said was a regular exercise aimed at reinforcing India’s claim over the area Beijing refers to as ‘Wu-Je’.
Rijiju termed the incidents a minor breach of the LAC.
“I have been briefed on the incident by ITBP chief Krishna Chaudhary. It is not a major or serious breach of the LAC. The Chinese troops came up to what they perceive as the LAC where they came across (the) Indian team. The situation was defused and the Chinese went back as well,” Rijiju said.
The Uttarakhand chief minister, who termed the incident as “serious” during an interaction with reporters in the morning, later backtracked saying it was not that serious to merit sending a report to the Centre.
Chamoli district magistrate Vinod Suman said he has filed an official report on the aborted visit. “I can’t divulge details. It is highly confidential,” Suman told HT.