Civilians from both sides have ended up becoming part of an India-China standoff over a contentious canal project near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between the two countries, at Demchok, 230km from Leh, in Ladakh.
In what further casts a shadow on Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ongoing state visit to India, armies of both sides were reported to be face to face also in the Chumar sector, about 90km from Demchok and 300km from Leh, as Chinese troops stepped up their presence to around 600 in the early hours of Thursday.
At Demchok, China is learnt to have pushed in civilians as part of a strategy to stop work on the irrigation canal, work on which originally began in 2010 but remains mired in the border dispute. In the standoff continuing for around two weeks now, Indian citizens too are sitting near the canal to stop any damage, purportedly after consulting officials in the region.
The Chinese move is being seen as a counter after India objected to its road construction work up to Chumar, 90km from Demchok. India claims China’s road work amounted to transgression of territory.
A senior official posted in Leh, wishing not to be named, said that around 12 days ago Indian troops and civilians sighted movement of heavy road construction machinery near Chumar. The Indian side objected, forcing China to take back the material some kilometres away from Chumar. Chinese civilian population is far-off from the place; but, as a counter, the Chinese pushed in civilians carrying flags and other materials at Demchok.
“Then our civilians approached top officials in Leh, who directed them to adopt the same tactics,” claimed the official. No end to the standoff was communicated till the filing of this report on Thursday night.
Ladakh has a 646km LAC with China but the line is not demarcated at several places in the sparsely populated cold desert region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday raised with Xi the latest incursion by Chinese troops during their meeting, the external affairs ministry said. Both leaders also agreed that the border issue needs to be resolved soon. (PTI inputs)
Bones of contention