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|February 15, 1999||
Backslap and bonhomie mark India-China border at Sikkim
An atmosphere of goodwill and trust prevails along the India-China border in the eastern sector, with not a single shot fired in several years.
The bonhomie between the Indian and Chinese army personnel who are eyeball to eyeball at this post, unlike others, is so much that army chief General V P Malik could walk right up to the barbed border, shake hands with Chinese soldiers and even give gifts to them.
General Malik's gesture, when he was at Natu La in Sikkim last week, was ''impromptu''.
''When I enquired about the measure of cordiality with the local brigade commander, he assured me of peaceful conditions there,'' he later told the Delhi-based journalists accompanying him.
The cordial relations at the border meeting which took place over the weekend, became even more evident when Gen Malik told the Chinese soldiers that he was a friend of their army chief. The Chinese, who seemed to harbour a faint misgiving over the large posse of people on this side of the border, immediately flashed smiles over the mention of their chief's name.
Then followed a long photograph session with some of the Indians crossing over the border onto Chinese territory and posing with the soldiers there.
But this show of bonhomie is not a one-shot affair in the area, where both maintain permanent surveillance posts, army officers asserted. ''International mail is exchanged at the border twice every week.''
Every Sunday and Thursday at 0830 hrs sharp, two mailbags are exchanged by both army personnel in a 'glass house' built on no-man's land. ''Both sides don't even check the mailbags. Old contacts on both sides are still being maintained through this method,'' they added.
In the last several years, there has been no case of intrusion by either side in this part of the border. ''In fact, the Chinese who have a difficult terrain to guard on the Tibetan border along north-east Sikkim, send patrols quite infrequently.'' The Tibetan plateau is at an average height of 16,000 feet above sea level, with Donkya range mountains at its periphery.
Whenever the army patrols of both sides see eyeball to eyeball, they quietly melt back into their countries without exchanging fire. ''We have no dispute over the boundary and there is no tension in this sector,'' army officers said.
A modus operandi has been developed at the border in this area to thrash out any unexpected problems. Whichever side has any complaints or difficulty, say in the case of cattle having crossed over, it waves a flag to be reciprocated by other side. ''These flag meetings help clear the bubbling tensions, if any,'' the officers said.
Moreover, twice a year -- on the 15th of May and September -- a border personnel meeting is held, once on Indian soil and the next one on the other side.
After India conducted nuclear tests at Pokhran in May last year, the Chinese had intensified patrolling in this hard terrain which has a few passes on their side. ''We saw that the frequency of patrols had increased but the suspicion on India's intentions soon whittled and matters turned normal,'' the officers added.
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