NEW DELHI: India asked China to pull back its troops and stop further construction activities in the strategically-located Depsang-Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector of eastern Ladakh, where both have amassed thousands of soldiers as well as tanks and artillery guns, in another round of military talks on Saturday.
India stressed the “importance of reducing tensions to prevent any inadvertent escalation or clash” in the Depsang Plains, which has been a major flashpoint over the years because the rival “perceptions” of the line of actual control (LAC) vastly differ in the region, said sources.
In terms of strategic importance, Depsang Plains is more crucial than the Pangong Tso and Gogra areas, where the deadlock in troop disengagement has largely persisted despite five rounds of the highest military dialogue at the corps commander-level till now.
The “one-rung lower” talks on Saturday were held between 3 Infantry Division commander Major General Abhijit Bapat and his PLA counterpart on the Chinese side of the DBO-Tien Wien Dien (TWD) border personnel meeting point from 11 am to 7.30 pm.
“Below the corps commanders, who are focusing on the major face-off sites, talks are being regularly conducted at the level of colonels, brigadiers and major generals for discussing specific sectors,” said a source.
There was no official word on the Saturday meeting. But sources said Gen Bapat insisted that the PLA troops camping near the “Bottleneck” or “Y-junction” area in Depsang Plains since May should not continue to block Indian soldiers from going to their traditional Patrolling Points (PPs)-10, 11, 12 and 13.
The “Bottleneck” area is around 18-km inside what India perceives to be its territory, though the Chinese claim line lies another 5-km to the west of it. China, in fact, claims 972 square km of territory in the region.
The last major troop face-off in Depsang Plains, the table-top plateau located at an altitude of 16,000-feet and just about 35-km south of the critical Karakoram Pass, took place in April-May 2013. The PLA troops had then intruded 19-km across the LAC to camp at the Raki Nalla area, with the confrontation finally being resolved after 21 days of hectic diplomatic negotiations.
A large and permanent PLA presence in Depsang can conceivably threaten India’s two available access routes to the logistical hub and airstrip at DBO and the critical Karakoram Pass in the north.
“Depsang is an old problem due to the hugely overlapping claims. Rival soldiers from both sides used to go to their PPs in the past. But over the last two-three years, there has been some blocking of each other’s patrols. This has aggravated since May,” said the source.
The PLA has also deployed over 12,000 troops, with tanks and artillery guns, from its 4th Motorised Infantry Division and 6th Mechanised Infantry Division along the LAC across the Depsang-DBO sector. The Indian Army, too, has counter-deployed with a couple of infantry brigades and an armoured brigade in the region, as was reported by TOI earlier.