New Delhi: The Chinese belligerence in eastern Ladakh escalated further Monday when its troops opened fire on Indian soldiers as a warning, breaking a 45-year record of no shots being fired at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), even as a fresh stand-off has emerged near the Rezang La heights.
The last incident of shots being fired at the LAC came in 1975, and even at that time, it was the Chinese who ambushed and killed four troopers of the Assam Rifles in Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh (then a union territory).
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the action took place Monday evening after the Chinese attempted to transgress into the Indian-dominated territory on the southern bank of Pangong Tso.
The details of increased acrimony came out at around midnight Monday, with the Chinese military accusing Indian soldiers of crossing the LAC and firing warning shots, a charge that India denied Tuesday morning.
The Army termed the statement by the People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theatre Command as “an attempt to mislead their domestic and international audience”.
Sources said since last Monday, China has made multiple attempts to push back Indian soldiers from dominating heights near the Reqin Pass and Spanggur Gap in eastern Ladakh, after they were outflanked the previous weekend in a “race to the passes”.
Chinese opened fire in the air
Pictures have emerged of Chinese soldiers carrying rifles and iron rods, with what appear to be machetes on their heads, near the vicinity of India’s forward locations.
Sources said these were possibly ‘Dah’, a crude weapon intended to work like a spear.
A different set of sources said that Monday, Chinese troops also carried clubs, and at one point, tried to provoke the Indians into action by trying to move ahead with crude weapons.
During the 15 June Galwan Valley clash, Chinese soldiers had used clubs with nails on them to target Indian soldiers, which eventually led to the death of 20 soldiers, including Col. Santosh Babu.
Sources said around 6 pm, the Chinese made an attempt to push back Indian soldiers from three heights along the Rezang La-Rechin La ridgeline. These heights are in Indian territory but are claimed by the Chinese.
The Chinese troops were in three different teams and were armed, sources said.
The PLA soldiers were given a warning by the Indians to stay away, but at one of the heights, a group of about 40 Chinese soldiers opened fire in the air.
The Indian Army statement said: “In the instant case on 07 September 2020, it was the PLA troops who were attempting to close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC and when dissuaded by own troops, PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate own troops. However, despite the grave provocation, own troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner.”
It is now learnt that the group of 40 Chinese soldiers has stayed put at one location, and is involved in a stand-off with Indian troops. The armed troops are at a distance of less than 200 metres, sources said.
Repeated attempts to push Indians back
Sources said ever since the Indians dominated the heights, spread over 50 kilometres, the Chinese have been trying to push them out.
“It is a sensitive situation. Indian soldiers continue to hold their positions. It is not a literal face-off since the troops are not standing face to face. However, the situation remains sensitive as the Chinese have made multiple attempts since last Monday,” a source said.
This was also reflected in the Army statement, which accused China of continuing with “provocative activities to escalate the situation”.
The statement also underlined that India is committed to disengagement and de-escalating the situation on the LAC, and that at no stage have the Indian soldiers transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing.
“It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres, while engagement at military, diplomatic and political level is in progress,” the Army said.