Five Indian men temporarily detained by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for crossing into Chinese territory were released on Saturday amid claims from a Chinese state newspaper that the men were spies.
Nationalist tabloid Global Times described the group as “undercover intelligence officers” and said they entered an area of southeast Tibet administered by Shannan, a prefecture-level city in the region. The article was based on comments made by its editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
“India has from time to time used the tactic of sending people across the border to find out information, which is also a means used to nibble away at China-controlled territory,” Hu said, adding that the five men were “warned and educated” before being released.
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The report did not say how the men were caught, but was published shortly before they were handed over to the Indian Army about noon on Saturday.
Indian Minister of State for Minority Affairs Kiren Rijiju said on Twitter on Friday that the PLA said via a military hotline that the five men, who had earlier been reported missing, had been found and would be handed over on Saturday “at a designated location”.
News portal India.com cited military sources as saying the handover took place in Chinese territory.
The families of the five, all of whom are from the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, had earlier said they had been abducted by PLA soldiers.
The handover took place after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Moscow on Thursday. During their talks, the two sides agreed to “quickly disengage” troops from the disputed Himalayan border and work out a new framework to maintain peace after months of tensions.
The Indian Army confirmed on Saturday that China had released five Indian nationals who had been missing since September 2.
The men were hunters and would be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution against the coronavirus before being allowed to return to their families, it said in a statement.
China and India have been locked in a bitter military stand-off at a number of locations since late May and tensions peaked in June with a clash in the Galwan Valley that saw at least 20 Indian soldiers killed.
Troops clashed again this month near Pangong Tso, with both sides accusing the other of firing the first shots.
The two countries have ramped up their military presence on the frontier. According to state media, the PLA has deployed more advanced weapons, including a new rocket launcher, to the area.
On Wednesday, Chinese state broadcaster CGTN reported that hundreds of PLA troops took part in a parachute drill on a plateau, most likely Tibet.
On Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe signed a 10-year pact to exchange supplies and logistics support between their armed forces.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
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This article China-India border dispute: five Indians freed by PLA after state newspaper calls them spies first appeared on South China Morning Post