India on Tuesday said Chinese troops attempted to close in on its position in eastern Ladakh a day earlier and fired shots in the air, in a rapid escalation of tensions where firearms were used along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after 45 years.
The fresh confrontation in Rezang-La ridgeline in eastern Ladakh on Monday evening where the soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army(PLA) carried clubs and spears erupted three days after the defence ministers of India and China held talks in Moscow, and ahead of an expected meeting between their foreign ministers in the Russian capital on Thursday.
As India and China accused each other of firing in the air near the Pangong lake at the Line of Actual Control(LAC) in eastern Ladakh on Monday. the Indian Army said that despite the "grave provocation" its troops exercised "great restraint" and behaved in a mature and responsible manner.
"In the instant case on September 7, it was the PLA troops who were attempting to close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC and when dissuaded by own (Indian) troops, PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate own troops," the Army said in a statement. An identical statement was also issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The previous instance of shots being fired at the de-facto border was in 1975. Provisions of an agreement of 1996 and another inked in 2005 mandate the two sides not to use firearms during any confrontation.
The statement by the Indian Army came after the PLA late on Monday night alleged that the Indian troops crossed the LAC and "outrageously fired" warning shots near the Pangong lake.
"At no stage has the Indian Army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing. It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres, while engagement at military, diplomatic and political level is in progress," the Army said.
Government sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the top echelons of the government have been apprised about the situation in eastern Ladakh and the Army has been told to maintain the highest level of alert along the LAC in Ladakh.
On Monday evening's incident, they said Chinese troops carried rods, spears, clubs and pole weapons called 'Guandao' in aggressively trying to close in on an Indian position in Mukhpari area of Rezang-La ridgeline.
The sources said around 50-60 soldiers of PLA approached the Indian post in the southern bank of Pangong lake area at around 6 PM but the Indian Army personnel posted there strongly confronted them, forcing their retreat.
It may be recalled that the Chinese troops had mounted a savage attack on Indian soldiers with stones, nail-studded sticks, iron rods and clubs during the Galwan Valley clashes in eastern Ladakh on June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed.
The sources said the Chinese army may have planned to engage Indian troops on Monday evening in a way similar to the clashes in Galwan Valley as its soldiers were seen carrying rods, spears, clubs and 'Guandao'.
The sources said Indian troops did not use any firearm, adding the attempt of the Chinese troops was to remove Indian Army from the strategic heights in Mukhpari peak and Rezang-La areas.
The sources said Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a standoff at a location near North of Rezang-La ridgeline around the southern bank of Pangong lake and the number of PLA personnel was around 40.
Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili, a spokesperson of PLA's Western Theater Command, in a statement on Monday night alleged that Indian troops illegally crossed the LAC and "outrageously fired" warning shots on Chinese border patrol soldiers who were about to negotiate.
Chinese troops were forced to take countermeasures to stabilize the situation, he said without elaborating.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian hoped that disengagement of troops can be achieved as soon as possible through mutual consultations, flagging approaching harsh winter in the region.
He spoke about disengagement when asked at a media briefing about restoration of the status quo by disengaging the troops.
"You have a good wish. We all hope our troops get back to their camping area and there won't be any more confrontation in the border areas. You know that place has a very bad natural condition and it is above a height of 4,000 metres," he said.
"I also want to stress in this incident, the Indian side fired shots to the Chinese border troops first. This is the first time since 1975 that the tranquility is interrupted by the shots. And the Chinese side always stresses that both sides should peacefully settle our differences through dialogue and consultations. Confrontation won't benefit either," he added.
Tensions escalated manifold along the LAC in eastern Ladakh after the Galwan Valley clashes. The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.
The border situation deteriorated again after China unsuccessfully attempted to occupy Indian territory in the southern bank of Pangong lake on the intervening night of August 29 and 30.
India occupied a number of strategic heights on the southern bank of Pangong lake and strengthened its presence in Finger 2 and Finger 3 areas in the region to thwart any Chinese actions. China has strongly objected to India's move. However, India has maintained that the heights are on its side of the LAC.
The PLA has been eyeing to capture the strategic heights in the last three-four days, the government sources said, adding the Chinese troops also damaged an iron fence on Monday evening which was put up by Indian troops in the area.
India continues to dominate strategic peaks around the southern bank of Pangong lake area overlooking key Chinese formations in the Moldo area.
India has also rushed in additional troops and weapons to the sensitive region following China's transgression attempts.