India, China begin withdrawing troops after tense border dispute

More than three weeks after Chinese troops were reported to have set up a camp far inside a region claimed by India, senior officers agree a joint pullback.

NEW DELHI // India and China have began withdrawing troops from a disputed area of the Himalayas after settling a border dispute that had threatened to reverse a recent warming in ties, Indian officials said.

More than three weeks after Chinese troops were reported to have set up a camp far inside a region claimed by India, senior officers from both sides reached an agreement for a joint pullback.

"Both sides reached an agreement on Sunday night after a meeting was held between border commanders. We will withdraw our troops and China will do the same," a senior Indian army official said on condition of anonymity.

Another army source said around 50 Chinese soldiers had withdrawn from the Siachen glacier in the remote Ladakh region and pulled down their tents close to an Indian military airstrip.

A source in the foreign ministry confirmed that the pullback had begun and said a statement would be made before parliament later in the day.

News of the withdrawal came after Salman Khurshid, the Indian foreign minister, had hinted that he could cancel a planned trip to Beijing this week if there was no settlement of the dispute.

A foreign ministry spokesman confirmed that Mr Khurshid would be travelling to Beijing as scheduled on May 9 where he would "discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of concern" with Chinese counterparts.

The border row had also cast a cloud over the build-up to a planned visit to New Delhi by new Chinese premier Li Keqiang later this month.

Mr Khurshid said last month it was important to avoid "destroying" years of progress made between the neighbours, while India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had also stressed his desire to avoid inflaming tensions.

Relations between the neighbours have improved in recent years but they are still dogged by mutual suspicion — a legacy of a 1962 border war.

The informal border separating China and India is known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). While it has never been formally demarcated, the countries have signed two accords to maintain peace in frontier areas.

Small incursions of a few kilometres across the contested boundary are common but it is rare for either country to set up camps in disputed territory.

The Indian media had been clamouring for the government to take a tough line towards China, saying its latest incursion represented a significant raising of the stakes.

Sujit Dutta, a professor at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi who specialises in Indo-Chinese relations, said further such disputes were inevitable.

"The latest stand-off was more serious than usual cross-border incidents. The present issue has been resolved but such disputes will flare up again," Dutta told AFP.

Dutta said the new leadership in Beijing was making a concerted effort to challenge India's resolve.

"India should not assume that the dispute has ended. The fact is that the dispute has reached another level at a time when the new Chinese leadership is determined to contest India's territorial claims," said Dutta.

Comments from the respective governments during the dispute have reflected a desire not to let it disrupt their booming trade.

Officials in Beijing said both countries had the "capacity and wisdom" to defuse the row through "friendly consultation" but insisted their troops had not trespassed across the LAC.

Published: May 6, 2013 04:00 AM


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