| SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI, Indian
SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI, Indian May 5 India and
China simultaneously withdrew troops from camps a few meters
apart in a Himalayan desert on Sunday, apparently ending a
three-week standoff on a freezing plateau where the border is
disputed and the Asian giants fought a war 50 years ago.
The two sides stood down after reaching an agreement during
a meeting between border commanders, an Indian army official
told Reuters, after the tension threatened to overshadow a
planned visit by India's foreign minister to Beijing on
But it was not immediately clear how far China's People's
Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers had withdrawn - Delhi had claimed
they were 19 km (12 miles) beyond the point it understands to be
the border with China, a vaguely defined de facto line called
the Line of Actual Control, which neither side agrees on.
Defence and foreign ministry spokesmen did not immediately
respond to requests for comment.
"Our troops have moved one kilometre backwards from the
position they were on since April 16," said the officer, from
the Indian army's Northern Command, which oversees the disputed
region on the fringes of India's Jammu and Kashmir state.
"Chinese troops have also moved away from their position
they were holding on since April 15 when they intruded in Indian
territory. It is not clear yet how (far) the PLA moved back."
India considered it the worst border incursion for years.
New Delhi often appears insecure about relations with its
powerful neighbour, despite slowly warming relations between
Asia's largest countries. China is India's top trade partner,
but the unresolved border sours the friendship.
India's opposition and much of the media has been critical
of the government's handling of the standoff, drawing parallels
with a 1962 war which ended in its humiliating defeat. On
Friday, parliament was adjourned after members shouted "Get
China out, save the country".
"YOU ARE IN CHINESE TERRITORY"
India says Chinese troops intruded into its territory on the
western rim of the Himalayas on April 15. Some officials and
experts believe the incursion signalled Chinese concern about
increased Indian military activity in the area.
A group of about 30 Chinese soldiers, backed by helicopters,
had pitched several tents near a 16th century Silk Road campsite
called Daulat Beg Oldi, close to an air strip New Delhi uses to
support troops on the Siachen glacier.
Each day since, Indian and Chinese soldiers and border
guards left their camps and stood about 100 metres (330 feet)
apart on the Depsang Plain, a 5,000 meter (16,400 feet) high
desert ringed by jagged peaks of the Karakoram range.
Winter temperatures can drop to minus 30 degrees centigrade,
and the area is lashed by icy strong winds all year round.
A photograph released by a source in the Indian army showed
a group of six Chinese soldiers on a rock-strewn landscape
holding a bright orange banner that read, in English and
Mandarin, "This is the Line of Actual Control, You are in
Delhi reopened the Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in 2008. Two
other runways, out of use since the war, have been opened and
Daulat Beg Oldi has been upgraded since.
Siachen, at the north of the disputed region of Kashmir, is
claimed by both India and Pakistan and has the dubious
distinction of being the world's highest battlefield.
Tensions are likely to persist given India and China's
increased presence in an area that for centuries was largely
unclaimed and criss-crossed with caravan routes. Now the land
abuts the Karakoram Highway joining Pakistan to China, which
Beijing hopes to develop further as trade route linking it to
the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar.
Speaking before Sunday's resolution, Srikanth Kondapalli, an
Indian analyst who specialises in China studies, said the
dispute lay close to large hydroelectric projects and an
ambitious plan to expand the Karakoram highway.
He said the lack of agreement about where the border lies,
combined with increased military and infrastructure activity
meant more flashpoints were likely.
"It is a no-man's land," said Kondapalli, who considers the
current standoff to be more serious than the usual cross-border
incidents. "Even if the (present) issue is resolved, this will
only flare up."
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jon Hemming)