Army Chief to visit Sikkim amid India-China face-off

RSTV Bureau
Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat during the Army's annual press conference in New Delhi on Friday.

Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat during the Army’s annual press conference in New Delhi on Friday.

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is scheduled to visit Sikkim on Thursday to take stock of the stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Sikkim. The visit comes at a time when People’s Liberation Army removed a bunker of the Indian Army located at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan in Sikkim by using a bulldozer.

Meanwhile, Army has rushed more reinforcements to the face-off site in the Doka La area of Sikkim.  Doka La is at the tri-junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet and is strategically important for India as the crucial Siliguri corridor known in military parlance as Chicken Neck having road and rail head is just 50 to 60 kms from there.

The incident that broke out in the first week of June in Doka La general area in Sikkim had led to a face-off between the two forces, triggering tension in the Sikkim section of the India-China border.

China is believed to have not taken kindly to India building many new bunkers and upgrading older ones along the border in Sikkim in the recent past to augment its defences against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the sources said.

Of the 3,488-km-long India-China border from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, a 220-km section falls in Sikkim.

Beijing is also upset with New Delhi over the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, the sources said, adding they were also trying to escalate tension in the forward areas, including in Sikkim, even though the border in the northeastern state is demarcated.

The Sikkim government has also sent a report to the central government giving details of the situation along the border following the stand-off in Doka La.

The first batch of Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims comprising about 50 people returned from Nathu La border post as the stand-off between India and China continues.

The pilgrims returned to Gangtok on June 23 after staying in Nathu La for three days awaiting permission from the Chinese side to undertake the onward journey.

The second batch of the pilgrims did not move from Gangtok while pilgrims were told to go home as the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage is unlikely to continue this year via Nathu La.

The Sikkim route to Mansarovar, which is in Tibet, was thrown open to public in 2015.

The visas for the third batch, comprising about 50 pilgrims, were not given yet. A total of 8-10 batches were supposed to go for the pilgrimage through Nathu La this year.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley

Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said that 100 pilgrims were sent back by China despite they having a Chinese visa.

The sources said the Chinese side has mentioned a broken bridge as being the reason for the pilgrims not being able to cross into Tibet for the annual yatra.

While speaking to a private news channel Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said that the stand-off at the border will finish soon.

“These are consequences of unsettled border. Earlier also these incidents have happened. Skirmishes happen. But no bullet is fired. After sometime, slowly, the standoffs finish. I hope that this standoff will over get over soon,” he said

Sikkim is a part of the middle sector and experts have been warning the government of increased Chinese activities in this area.

China termed the construction of a road in the Sikkim sector as “legitimate”, asserting that it was being built on Chinese territory that neither belongs to India nor Bhutan and no other country had the right to interfere.

China lodged a protest with India over the alleged “crossing of boundary” by its troops in the Sikkim sector and demanded their immediate withdrawal, as Beijing warned that future visits of Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar will depend on the resolution of the standoff.

The last such transgression had happened in Sikkim in November 2008 when Chinese soldiers destroyed some makeshift Indian Army bunkers there.

While on the other side, China on Wednesday hinted India was acting at the behest of Bhutan by crossing the boundary to obstruct construction of a road in the Chinese territory.

Beijing also said future visits of pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar through Nathu La in Sikkim will depend on whether India will “correct its errors.”