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NEW DELHI: India and China began the sixth round of talks at the level of senior military commanders on Monday to try and explore ways to ensure a temporary truce at the border between the two sides, besides looking at whether it can be possibly built upon.

In a rare development, the Indian delegation to the talks includes Naveen Srivastava, joint secretary in the Indian foreign ministry who heads the China desk. The previous rounds of talks at the level of corps commanders did not see the inclusion of a diplomat.

The Indian delegation, led by Lt General Harinder Singh of the Indian Army, also has Lt General PGK Menon. Menon is expected to take over from Singh next month as the head of the Leh based 14 Corps. The Chinese delegation is expected to be headed by Maj General Liu Lin of South Xinjiang Military region. Hewas the head of the Chinese delegation in the previous rounds.

The talks this time are taking place at Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control border in Ladakh - across the Chushul sector.

The two sides are coming face to face after a gap of more than a month. The last round of talks took place on 2 August and was seen to have ended in a deadlock with the Chinese side seen as reluctant to pull back from two areas — Finger 4 at Pangong Lake in Ladakh and Patrolling point 17A.

Monday’s meeting is also the first round of discussions after Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of a regional meet in Moscow. Monday’s talks are therefore seen as crucial in testing whether a five point agreement – arrived at jointly between the two foreign ministers in Moscow on 10 September – that set the stage for a seeming truce between the two countries, is sustainable and can be carried forward.

The immediate task for the two delegations is likely to be to consider ways to disengage troops that are at some places seen as some 500 metres apart from each other. A violent clash between the two sides in June had resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers. While some disengagement of troops took place after the June clash, tensions mounted again after the Chinese side refused to move back from key places it had occupied along the north bank of the Pangong Tso lake. Late August, Indian troops secured vantage positions on five strategic mountains on the south bank of Pangong Tso, preempting a possible Chinese takeover. The moves led to tensions between the two countries with two incidents of shots being fired between the two sides – seen as the first in more than four decades.

According to a person familiar with the developments, the Chinese troops present along the LAC have not made any aggressive moves in recent days – since the 10 September meeting between the two foreign ministers.

Key among the agreements reached were that “the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side." So it was agreed that “the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions."

The two ministers had also concurred that India and China abide by previous pacts signed in 1993,1996, 2005 and 2012 to maintain peace on their borders and avoid any action that could escalate matters. Dialogue, they agreed, would also continue at the level of special representatives tasked with resolving the border dispute as well as diplomats besides military commanders.

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