China and India pull troops back from disputed border in Ladakh

Area around Pangong lake saw deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese troops last year

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2020, file photo, an Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway towards the cold-desert Ladakh region where China and India have been engaged in a tense standoff since May, at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. India has high hopes its ties with the United States will deepen under President Joe Biden, who was a key proponent of the 2008 civil nuclear deal between the countries and whose new administration includes several Indian Americans. Relations between the world’s two largest democracies are driven in part by their desire to maintain strong ties as a counter to China  (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan, File)
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India and China have agreed to pull back troops from a bitterly contested lake area high in the western Himalayas, the Indian defence minister said on Thursday, in a breakthrough after a months-long standoff on the disputed border.

Rajnath Singh told parliament the accord over Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 4,270 metres, had been reached after several rounds of talks between military commanders and diplomats from the nuclear-armed neighbours.

"Our sustained talks with China have led to agreement on disengagement on the north and south banks of the Pangong lake," he said.

China's defence ministry said frontline troops from the two countries began to pull back from the shores of the lake on Wednesday.

The standoff began in April last year when India said Chinese troops had intruded deep into its side of the Line of Actual Control – the de facto border in the Ladakh area in the western Himalayas.

China said its troops were operating in its own area and accused Indian border guards of provocative actions.

In June, 20 Indian soldiers were killed when the two sides clashed with iron rods and stones in the Galwan Valley, the first combat losses on the border in 45 years. China also suffered an unspecified number of casualties.

Since then the two countries, who fought a war in 1962, had moved thousands of troops, tanks, artillery guns and combat jets close to the border.

Mr Singh said the Indian government had told Beijing that peace and tranquility had been seriously disturbed by the actions of Chinese troops and bilateral ties had suffered.

"To ensure disengagement in friction points along the LAC, it was our view that troops of both sides, who are now in close proximity, should vacate the forward deployments made in 2020 and return to the permanent and accepted bases," he said.

Pangong lake is a finger of water extending from China's Tibet Autonomous Region in India's Ladakh region.

In August, Indian troops occupied heights on the southern banks of the lake in retaliation against Chinese troops advancing further along the north bank.

Mr Singh said the two sides had agreed to dismantle defence structures they had built on the two sides of the lake, two-thirds of which China controls.

Once the disengagement has been completed at the lake, military commanders will meet within 48 hours to discuss pulling back from other areas, Mr Singh said.

India and China have not been able to agree on their 3,500 kilometre border since the war in 1962.