Sino-Indian troops' scuffle in Sikkim leads to tension

2 make-shift bunkers damaged Beijing says it is talks with New Delhi over entry of pilgrims to Mansarovar
Report by: 
New Delhi/Beijing
26 Jun 2017

Tension mounted in a remote area of Sikkim after a scuffle broke out between personnel of the Indian Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), leading to Chinese troops damaging bunkers on the Indian side of the border.

The incident happened in the first week of June near the Lalten post in the Doka La general area in Sikkim after a face-off between the two forces, which triggered tension along the Sino-Indian frontier, official sources said. After the scuffle, the PLA entered Indian territory and damaged two make-shift bunkers of the Army, the sources said. After the India-China war of 1962, the area has been under the Indian Army and the ITBP, which is the border guarding force and has a camp 15km from the international border.

In a bid to defuse the tension along the LAC, the Indian Army twice asked the Chinese to join a flag meeting, which they turned down. Finally, the Chinese side agreed to a meeting on June 20. It was then that the Chinese side conveyed to their Indian counterparts that Indian pilgrims, who were on a yatra to Kailash Mansarovar, would not be allowed to cross into Tibet, the sources said. The pilgrims were kept waiting till June 23 after which they returned to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, which is the only region where the border between India and China is demarcated. According to the sources, the Chinese side said a bridge had broken because of which the pilgrims could not cross into Tibet for the annual yatra.

The Sikkim route to Mansarovar, which is in Tibet, was opened in 2015. It is not the first time that such a transgression has happened at Doka La, on the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. The Chinese forces had in November 2008 destroyed some makeshift Indian army bunkers there. Earlier this year, Chinese helicopters had entered the airspace in the Barahoti area of Uttrakhand, called the middle sector. Sikkim is a part of the sector and experts have been warning the government of increased Chinese activities in this area.

Meanwhile, China today said it was in talks with India over the denial of entry to 47 Indian pilgrims who were scheduled to travel to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet through the Nathu-la pass.
"According to my information, the two governments are in touch over this issue," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Suhang told newspersons, declining to elaborate whether it was due to any weather-related issues like landslides and rains the Pilgrims were stopped by the Chinese officials at the Sino-Indian border. Geng said the issue was being discussed by the two foreign ministries.

In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay had said that some difficulties were being experienced in the movement of pilgrims through Nathu La and that India is taking up the matter with China. The development has cast a shadow of uncertainty on the annual yatra as Chinese officials maintained that it would take some time to repair the roads and the Indians would not be able to make the pilgrimage any time soon. The Chinese officials said they were concerned about the safety of the Indian pilgrims which is why they were stopped from proceeding further.

The pilgrims, who were stopped by the Chinese officials at the border from proceeding further, have now returned to their respective states. Hundreds of Indian pilgrims undertake Kailash Mansarovar yatra in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China every year negotiating the mountainous terrain. This year, a total of 350 yatris had registered for the yatra via Nathu La route and they were to travel in seven batches.

The denial of permission to the first batch of 47 Indian pilgrims was a surprise as the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the new route via Nathula Pass in Sikkim was launched with a fanfare by the two countries in 2015. This was the second route agreed by the two counties for the Kailash Yatra.