India said that its troops, along with their Chinese counterparts, have withdrawn completely from a disputed part of their Himalayan border after months of heightened tensions raised the spectre of a full-fledged war between the two nuclear-armed Asian rivals.
Thousands of soldiers from the rivals sides have been deployed on the Himalayan frontier since April on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the de facto border, including at the glacial Pangong Tso lake.
Earlier this month, military commanders agreed to begin pulling out troops, tanks and artillery from the Pangong Tso lake area in the first step towards full withdrawal which happened on Saturday.
On Saturday, the two commanders met to review the pullout.
“The two sides positively appraised the smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area noting that it was a significant step forward that provided a good basis for resolution of other remaining issues along the LAC in Western Sector,” a joint press release said.
The deployment in the remote area that falls in India’s Ladakh region and adjoins the Chinese-administered Aksai Chin plateau had raised fears of a broader conflict between the two nuclear-armed countries.
At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed during clash in the Galwan Valley in June, the first combat losses on the disputed border in more than 40 years. China this week admitted for the first time that it lost four soldiers in the fighting.
Troops remain in close proximity on other parts of the undefined border including at Hot Springs, Gogra Post and the Depsang plains, officials said.
The commanders had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on the situation on the border, the two countries said in the press release.
“The two sides agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, continue their communication and dialogue, stabilise and control the situation on the ground, push for a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues in a steady and orderly manner, so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” they said.
India has said Chinese troops intruded deep into its side of the LAC leading to an unprecedented troop build-up beginning in April. China denied its troops had transgressed the LAC and instead accused Indian border guards of provocative behaviour.
The two Asian rivals have failed to demarcate their 3,500-kilometre (2,200-mile) border since they went to war in 1962.
India claims Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin, a strategic corridor linking Tibet to western China, while Beijing considers Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory. New Delhi currently controls Arunachal Pradesh.