China has withdrawn its troops by at least a kilometre in the tense Galwan river valley in eastern Ladakh, where 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a deadly brawl with Chinese troops on June 15, Indian sources said yesterday.
Indian soldiers have also pulled back and a buffer zone has been created between the troops of both sides to prevent escalation. "We will need to wait to see if this is a lasting, genuine disengagement," the sources told AFP.
China's People's Liberation Army was seen removing tents and structures at patrolling point 14, near the place where the clashes took place, they said.
The one-km withdrawal by China came after special representatives of India and China agreed to disengage, "take guidance from the consensus of leaders" and "not allow differences to become disputes," they added.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who had a conversation over phone on Sunday, decided that both sides should "strictly respect and observe" the Line of Actual Control -- the de facto border between India and China -- and should not take any unilateral action to alter the status quo, the Indian government said.
The two sides agreed that "it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas", New Delhi said in a statement.
"In this regard they further agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously," the statement added.
In response to a question on whether China had moved back equipment in the Galwan valley, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said both sides were "taking effective measures to disengage and ease the situation on the border".
"We hope India will meet China halfway and take concrete measures to carry out what both sides agreed to, continue to closely communicate through diplomatic and military channels, and work together to cool down the situation at the border," Zhao told a news conference yesterday.
Reports of the pull back in the last 24 hours have emerged three days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise visit to a Ladakh forward post, where he addressed thousands of troops and asserted, without naming China, that "the age of expansionism is over and expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back."
Last Wednesday, commanders of the Indian and Chinese armies met for a third round of talks after the Galwan Valley clash. The talks went on for 12 hours.
The Lieutenant-General-level talks have focused on reducing tension at the LAC after weeks of a tense face-off including physical fights in early May at another disputed hotspot in Sikkim.
The progress from talks, sources had said, would be dependent upon China agreeing to move back to its positions before the tension in the area started building-up in April.
Recent satellite images are proof of multiple Chinese intrusions across the LAC and the deployment of heavy weaponry and Chinese construction activity. The images, widely used by Indian media, had indicated that the Chinese had illegally occupied 423 metres of Indian territory in the Galwan valley.
Images acquired by NDTV from Planet Labs showed a significant consolidation of Chinese forces in Ladakh's Pangong Lake region .
CAUGHT BY SURPRISE
Indian soldiers who died in close combat with Chinese troops last month were unarmed and surrounded by a larger force on a steep ridge, Indian government sources, two soldiers deployed in the area and families of the fallen men said.
One of the Indian soldiers had his throat slit with metal nails in the darkness, his father told Reuters, saying he had been told by a fellow soldier who was there.
Others fell to their deaths in the freezing waters of the Galwan river in the western Himalayas, relatives have learned from witnesses.
Reuters spoke to relatives of 13 of the men who were killed, and in five cases they produced death certificates listing horrific injuries suffered during the six-hour night-time clash at 14,000 ft (4,267 metres) amid remote, barren mountains.
Three of the dead men had their "arteries ruptured in the neck" and two sustained head injuries caused by "sharp or pointed objects", the death certificates seen by Reuters said.
Three of the Indian families said they had been told by soldiers who were commissioned to bring the bodies back to them that some combatants pushed each other into the fast-flowing Galwan river.
The government official in Delhi also said bodies of some soldiers were fished out of the river the next morning. Some had succumbed to hypothermia, the official added.
The Galwan valley incident was the first time in 45 years that soldiers had died in combat on the Asian giants' long-disputed border.
India and China fought a war over the frontier in 1962. Anti-China sentiment has been growing in India since the high-altitude clash, with the government banning 59 Chinese mobile apps including the wildly popular TikTok.