India has continued to build up troops along its disputed border with China following renewed clashes between the two nuclear-armed rivals and reports of the death of an Indian soldier.
As well as strengthening its troops and infrastructure along the western stretch of the border in Ladakh, regional officials say India has deployed more troops along its eastern border areas in Arunachal Pradesh state, which Beijing claims as South Tibet.
Hundreds of China’s People’s Liberation Army soldiers were reported over the weekend to have attempted to move forward to strategic points on the southern banks of Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh.
India said it had thwarted the action and claimed several strategic points along the contested mountain ridgeline, but it condemned what officials described as “provocative military movements” that violated the ongoing consensus to disengage.
China heavily disputed this version of events, saying India had “grossly violated” its territorial integrity and “illegally trespassed” across the disputed border, known as the Line of Actual Control. China denied that any Indian solider had died.
India then accused China of further provocative action on Monday by again attempting to move troops closer to areas occupied by Indian troops, bringing soldiers almost “eyeball to eyeball”, according to military sources, even as disengagement talks were happening.
According to members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, Nyima Tenzin, an Indian soldier of Tibetan descent who is a regiment company leader in the Special Frontier Force (SFF) – an elite army unit that patrols the Himalayan border – died in a mine blast on Sunday near the disputed area of Pangong Lake, indicating that the SFF had been deployed alongside the military.
Tenzin’s body was taken to the Tibetan settlement camp near the city of Leh in Ladakh, where his wife and two children live, for final Buddhist rights to be performed.
The death of Tenzin, the first casualty on the border since 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives in June during a high-altitude confrontation in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, has not been confirmed by the Indian government, which rarely comment on SFF operations.
Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, told the Guardian it was “saddening that the martyrdom of this soldiers is unacknowledged just because he is Tibetan”. There are about 100,000 Tibetans living in exile in India, many in Ladakh.
“Perhaps its because he is a Tibetan and the Chinese government has a tendency to politicise everything, so that is why the Indian government have been fearful about publicising his death,” said Lhagyari. “The Tibetans are highly respectful of the Indian government and the nation and the sacrifice that company leader Nyima Tenzin has made is out of sheer love for India and its people.”
Months of diplomatic and military-level talks have failed to defuse the situation in Ladakh, which began in May when China began unusual movements of troops and artillery into areas India had considered to be its sovereign territory.
In June it escalated into a full-blown assault in Galwan Valley, the worst violence between the two sides since 1967, as soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with rocks and spiked clubs at an altitude of about 4,250m (14,000ft), which led to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers.
Disengagement talks between India and China military commanders continued on Wednesday in the Ladakh village of Chushul.