Army Moves Troops of Sukna-Based 33 Corps to India-China Border
The troop movement from Sukna began about 20-25 days ago.
A bulk of the troops of the Sukna-based 33 Corps have been or are in the process of being moved to the Indo-China frontier in Sikkim even as the controversy over the Doklam plateau at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction continues to surface from time to time.
Eastern Command army sources revealed that all three divisions under the 33 Corps, which is stationed in Sukna, near Siliguri in West Bengal, have been deployed on the Sino-Indian border.
The troop movement from Sukna began about 20-25 days ago. The most important and vital elements of the corps have moved up and taken position in designated "Op Areas".
The Movement “Has More to Do With Posturing”
The troops are at varying depths of 20 kms to 500 metres from the India-China border in north and east Sikkim. Some units were given four days' written notice to move to the upper reaches while others have been handed out as little as six hours' notice to move up.
The deployment, according to sources, is taking place stealthily so as not to attract attention, either at the national or international level. This is being described as a “trickle up” method.
A corps is made up of three divisions. The number of troops, including combat and noncombat soldiers, is between 30-40,000. The 17th mountain division is stationed in Gangtok anyway.
While the troop movement began a few days ago, the official information for the deployment was shared with mid-ranking officers on 7 August. The sources said that 60 percent of the corps has moved up to Sikkim as of today, but the movement “has more to do with posturing”.
Army sources admitted that the deployment is unusual as “it has begun barely two months before the onset of winter in the upper reaches of the Himalayan range bordering China and Bhutan”.
It is said that the heavy deployment, which comes in the wake of substantial Indian troop (non-threatening in nature) build-up immediately after the Doklam issue burst on the international scene, is in response to heightened and quick construction of bunkers and other military fortifications by the PLA in Tibet over the past few weeks.
When contacted, an army spokesperson said,
I am not authorised to speak on such highly classified matters. Besides, I am not aware of such deployment.
One of the Longest Standoffs in Indo-China History
Sources, however, disclosed that nearly three months after Indian troops prevented a contingent of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from restarting work on constructing a road in Doklam or Doka La or Donglang as the Chinese prefer to call the area near the trijunction, about 150-200 soldiers of both armies remain at the flashpoint zone.
Since the controversy erupted in June, India has claimed that Doklam is an integral part of Bhutan. However, China has said that the plateau region, which is located barely 7 kms east of Kuppup in east Sikkim, belongs to it.
Beijing has repeatedly sought the “immediate and unconditional” withdrawal of the Indian troops from Doklam before any meaningful talks could begin to resolve the thorny issue.
The standoff, one of the longest in the history of confrontations between the Indian Army and the PLA, is nowhere close to being resolved even after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s visit to Beijing last month, where he met his counterpart State Councilor Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of a BRICS nations’ meeting.
Soon after the Doval-Jiechi meeting, Beijing issued a statement saying that troops’ presence had been drastically reduced in Doklam, claiming, however, that India had been “notified in advance (of the PLA’s) plans to build a road in Doklam”.
In a subsequent lengthy statement, Beijing said that “as a third party, India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan, still less the right make territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf.”
The statement added, “India’s intrusion into the Chinese territory under the pretext of Bhutan has not only violated China’s territorial sovereignty, but also challenged Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence.”
The 15-page statement and “factsheet” accused India of “illegal trespass” in Doklam.
“Both Indian and Chinese soldiers are using umbrellas to shield themselves from the rain even as they have formed a chain holding hands to continue to make their presence felt in Doklam,” an army source said, refusing to disclose the names of the specific regimental units while revealing that artillery and infantry battalions are part of the massive deployment across east and north Sikkim.
Besides infantry troops and artillery units of the Sukna-based 33 Corps, the Indian army has mobilised sappers and engineers from Panagarh in lower Bengal to bolster its presence along the India-China borders in Sikkim.
Army sources revealed to The Quint that the sappers and engineers' units have been made part of this massive mobilisation, comprising between 30,000-40,000 troops, for building bridges across mountainous streams in the higher reaches where the network of roads "may not be in the best of conditions in the monsoons".
While the movement of the 33 Corps, which is stationed at Sukna near Siliguri in West Bengal, has been in response to the Chinese People's Liberation Army's efforts to reinforce their side of the border in Tibet with bunkers and other fortifications, the larger objective is "defensive" and therefore part of a strategy to build a show of force in the face of "continuing Chinese statements and building of bunkers that have a military objective".
The Indian army as well as the Ministry of External Affairs has sought to keep the latest mobilisation of troops under wraps with the actual movement of troops carried out over the last 20-25 days being described as "trickle up" so as not to cause any alarm in the border regions.
The mobilisation is generally posturing but it does have a larger military and international objective.An Army Source
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