Chinese troops once again detained five Indian porters and their mules at Chumar area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. According to the Sources, the porters were released by the People Liberation Army (PLA) troops only after the Indian Army intervened through the hotline and a flag meeting between local commanders to demand their return.
Both Indian and Chinese armies have been conducting aggressive patrolling along all the three sectors of the 4,057-km long unresolved LAC - western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) - to strengthen their claims to disputed territories. India, for instance, has recorded close to 700 transgressions by the PLA troops across the LAC in the last three years.
In the latest incident, the Indian porters were "detained" in the Chumar area in first week of December by the PLA troops, who were apparently patrolling to their claim line but which India considers as its own territory.
Chumar post, the bone of contention
The Indian post at Chumar on the Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh border, in particular, has for long irritated the PLA because it looks into Chinese territory and track troops movements there. Chumar, in fact, is one out of the handful of sectors in eastern Ladakh where Indian positions and supply lines are "far superior" to PLA ones.
Chumar has witnessed several "tense" incidents and face-offs between the two forces in recent years. China already was irked about India's re-activation of the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), Fukche and Nyoma advanced landing grounds and construction of some posts along the LAC in Ladakh over the last five to six years to match the massive infrastructure build-up by PLA in the region.
April-May 2013 face-off between Indian Army and PLA
Chumar was also the bone of contention during the 21-day military face-off in April-May 2013 that saw the two rival armies pitching tents and indulging in banner drills after PLA troops intruded 19 km into Indian Territory in the Depsang Bulge area of the DBO sector.
The main pre-condition laid down by the PLA to withdraw from Depsang during the face-off was that India should dismantle the temporary bunkers it had constructed in Chumar, which incidentally is some 250 km south of DBO. The crisis was finally defused on May 5, 2013 after India dismantled what it called ``a tin shed'' at Chumar and the PLA troops simultaneously withdrew from Depsang.
Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA)
The BDCA was inked between India and China on October 23, 2013 during PM Manmohan Singh's trip to Beijing. It was to provide a more robust protocol for defusing such confrontations and ``build trust'' between the two rival armies along the LAC, till the political leadership can actually resolve the larger and vexed boundary problem.
The BDCA basically consolidates earlier such pacts inked in 1993, 1996 and 2005 to reinforce various de-escalatory steps while reaffirming that ``neither side shall use force or threaten to use force" or "seek unilateral superiority" to alter the status-quo along the LAC.
It then goes beyond them to outline new CBMs like a hotline between the two military headquarters, no "tailing" of each other's patrols, additional border personnel meeting (BPM) points and ``small scale tactical exercises" - apart from the "Hand-in-Hand" joint exercise - along the LAC.
The pact holds that both armies will "exercise maximum self-restraint" if a face-to-face situation develops, as also have the right to "seek a clarification from the other side" if "a doubtful situation arises" where there is "no common understanding" of the LAC.
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