India demolishes Himalaya outpost to end China standoff

SRINAGAR, India Tue May 7, 2013 11:26pm IST

Map of the Himalayas locating disputed borders and territory. Reuters/Graphics

Map of the Himalayas locating disputed borders and territory. Reuters/Graphics

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SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - India has agreed to a Chinese demand to demolish a remote army position near their de facto border in the Himalayas, Indian sources said, as part of a deal to end a standoff that threatened to scupper slowly improving relations.

Indian and Chinese soldiers faced off 100 metres (330 feet) apart on a plateau near the Karakoram mountain range, where they fought a war 50 years ago, for three weeks until they reached a deal on Sunday for both sides to withdraw.

The tension had threatened to overshadow a visit by the Indian foreign minister to Beijing on May 9. China's Premier Li Keqiang is expected to visit India later this month.

India said up to 50 Chinese soldiers set up camp in its territory on the western rim of the Himalayas on April 15. Some Indian officials and experts believed the incursion signalled Chinese concern about increased Indian activity in the area.

The Chinese camp was in an area India said was 19 km (12 miles) beyond what it understands to be the border in the Ladakh region of Kashmir, a vaguely defined line called the Line of Actual Control, which neither side agrees on.

Details of the deal have not been made public and there were differing versions about what had been dismantled. A source with direct knowledge of the decision making in New Delhi said India agreed to take down a temporary metal-roofed shelter in the Chumar area, further south along the disputed border.

The source said the dismantled shelter had been erected in Chumar shortly after China set up camp on the plateau.

However, an official from the Indian army's northern command said India had taken down more permanent structures from Chumar.

"The bunkers in Chumar were dismantled after we acceded to Chinese demand in the last flag meeting. These bunkers were live-in bunkers," the army officer told Reuters on Tuesday.

China won the border war they fought in 1962, which soured relations for decades, but ties between the Asian giants have been improving. China is India's top trade partner and the two occasionally hold joint military exercises.

India has been beefing up its military presence for several years on the remote Ladakh plateau, building roads and runways to catch up with Chinese development across the border in a disputed area known as Aksai Chin

The decision to agree to the Chinese demand followed heavy criticism of the Indian government over its handling of the incident by the opposition.

An official in India's Defence Ministry said on Monday the deal to end the standoff was "quid pro quo" and said China had also demanded India take down listening and observation posts in the Chumar area, which is close to a Chinese road through Tibet.

The source in New Delhi denied India was dismantling anything more than the border shelter.

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR; Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Alison Williams)

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