India returns ‘stray’ soldier to China troops in disputed border region

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A Chinese soldier captured by India has been returned, China’s military confirmed on Wednesday morning, resolving the latest cross-border stand-off between the two countries in their disputed high-mountain border region.

“According to an agreement reached by China and India, a Chinese soldier who was asked by herders to help find a lost yak was handed over by India to Chinese border troops on the morning of October 21,” according to a news bulletin issued by official armed forces newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily.

The soldier was “apprehended” on Monday on the side of the Demchok area of Ladakh controlled by India after he “strayed” across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), according to a statement from the Indian Army which identified him as Corporal Wang Ya Long.

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The statement said India would return the soldier, who was provided with food and medical help, to the Chinese military at the Chushul-Moldo meeting point. The Indian report was followed up by the PLA which said in a statement issued on Monday evening that the soldier had been helping a local herdsman to find a lost yak on Sunday.

China-India border dispute: its origins and impact

Straying cattle, and personnel, have drifted across the contested region since the border conflict between China and India erupted in May. In September, the Indian army tweeted that it had returned 13 yaks and four calves a week after they crossed the LAC in a “gesture of goodwill” towards the Chinese side.

There was speculation in the India media that the cattle had been inspected for surveillance devices before they were returned.

Also in September, India accused China of kidnapping five of its citizens who went missing from the border province of Arunachal Pradesh. The five were reported to have been returned a week later. An unnamed source quoted by Chinese tabloid Global Times speculated the five may be Indian intelligence agents.

Tens of thousands of troops, along with tanks, aircraft, artillery and other weaponry, have been moved into the border area by both sides on the heels of months of tense, and sometimes bloody, stand-offs in the remote Himalayan region.

There have been incidents at dozens of contested hotspots along thousands of kilometres in the mountainous terrain between China’s Tibetan autonomous region, and Indian territories including Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.

There have been multiple rounds of military and diplomatic talks which have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough in the dispute.

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