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Indian PM visits military base close to China amid stand-off

Clashes last month in the disputed Ladakh border region left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.

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Indian PM Narendra Modi (Narendramodi.in/AP)

Indian PM Narendra Modi (Narendramodi.in/AP)

Indian PM Narendra Modi (Narendramodi.in/AP)

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has made an unannounced visit to a military base in the remote Ladakh region bordering China where troops from the two countries have been facing off for nearly two months.

Mr Modi, accompanied by India’s military leadership, interacted with soldiers as he sat in a camouflage tent at a military base, a photo uploaded on the PM’s Instagram account showed.

“Interacting with our brave armed forces personnel,” he wrote.

Mr Modi’s visit comes in the backdrop of massive Indian army build-up in Ladakh region following hand-to-hand combat between Indian and Chinese soldiers on June 15 that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and dozens injured, the worst military confrontation in more than four decades between the Asian giants.

Indian officials say there were casualties on the Chinese side as well, but there has been no confirmation by Beijing.

No other details of Mr Modi’s visit were available.

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Indian army officers walk past the funeral pyre of their colleague Colonel B. Santosh Babu, who was killed in clashes between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh (AP)

Indian army officers walk past the funeral pyre of their colleague Colonel B. Santosh Babu, who was killed in clashes between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh (AP)

AP/PA Images

Indian army officers walk past the funeral pyre of their colleague Colonel B. Santosh Babu, who was killed in clashes between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh (AP)

Both India and China have provided little information officially, but media in the two countries have given large coverage to the escalating tensions, much of it replayed on television news channels and social media.

The PM’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leader, BL Santhosh, tweeted that Mr Modi would also meet injured soldiers and called the visit a “big, big booster to soldiers’ morale. He leads from front”.

Indian officials say the current stand-off began in early May when large contingents of Chinese soldiers entered deep inside Indian-controlled territory at three places in Ladakh, erecting tents.

They say the soldiers ignored repeated verbal warnings, triggering a yelling match, stone-throwing and even fistfights in at least one place along Pangong Lake, the site of several such confrontations in the past.

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A banner erected by the Indian army stands near Pangong Tso lake near the India China border in India’s Ladakh area (AP)

A banner erected by the Indian army stands near Pangong Tso lake near the India China border in India’s Ladakh area (AP)

AP/PA Images

A banner erected by the Indian army stands near Pangong Tso lake near the India China border in India’s Ladakh area (AP)

But the situation turned deadly on June 15 when the rival soldiers engaged in a clash in Galwan Valley, where India is building a strategic road connecting the region to an airstrip close to China.

According to Indian officials, Chinese troops on top of a ridge at the mouth of the narrow valley threw stones, punched and pushed Indian soldiers down a ridge at around 15,000 feet.

Since the confrontation, India has sent in huge reinforcements of soldiers, military equipment and fighter jets into the already highly-militarised region.

The disputed border covers nearly 2,175 miles of frontier that the two countries call the Line of Actual Control and that stretches from Ladakh in the north to the Indian state of Sikkim in the north-east.

India and China fought a border war in 1962 that also spilled into Ladakh. The two countries have been trying to settle their border dispute since the early 1990s, without success.

Since then, soldiers from the two sides have frequently faced off along the contested frontier.

Several rounds of military and diplomatic talks to end the current crisis in Ladakh have been unsuccessful.

India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019.

China was among the handful of countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the UN Security Council.

PA