Defence minister, Army chief to visit Ladakh for security review on July 17-18

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Defence minister Rajnath Singh will visit Ladakh for a security review on July 17 at a time of military tensions in the sensitive sector where the Indian and Chinese armies are in talks for the next stage of disengagement, two officials said on Wednesday.

Singh will also visit forward areas in Jammu and Kashmir on July 18, they said.

Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane will accompany the minister, the officials said.

The military is keeping a strict vigil on the western front to deter Pakistan from fishing in troubled waters and prevent what could turn out to be a two-front conflict, as reported by Hindustan Times on July 2.

Singh was expected to visit Ladakh in early July but his tour was deferred. The minister will be visiting Ladakh two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to the sector on July 3. The PM then declared that the “era of expansionism” is over, sending a strong signal to China about India’s determination to defend its borders.

Complicated negotiations on kicking off the next stage of disengagement between the Indian and Chinese armies in eastern Ladakh saw senior military commanders from both sides hold a 14-hour meeting at Chushul on Tuesday to discuss the road map for further reducing tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The talks that began at 11.30 am and went on till 2 am on Wednesday. The outcome of the talks wasn’t immediately known. A statement is expected only after top-level internal deliberations in the army on the matter, the officials said.

The focus of the current round of military talks is to hammer out a consensus on easing tensions between the two armies in the Finger Area near Pangong Tso and Depsang plains as well as pulling back weapons and equipment from friction points in other sectors.

This was the fourth meeting between the corps commander-ranked officers of the two armies who made previous attempts to reduce tensions along the contested border on June 6, June 22 and June 30.

The previous two meetings went on for up to 11 hours while the first one was the shortest at 7 hours.

Negotiations are expected to be far harder this time as the continued presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Finger Area and the Depsang sector could be the sticking point of the talks, as reported by HT on Tuesday.

In Tuesday’s talks, the agenda included the step-wise withdrawal of weapons and equipment to mutually agreed distances from all friction areas along the LAC and thinning the military buildup in the region.

The military dialogue will be followed by another meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs. The military commanders set the time-frame and method of disengagement while the WMCC monitors the process.

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