NEW DELHI (AP) — India says a newly inaugurated road does not illegally cross into neighboring Nepal, denying the tiny Himalayan country's claim that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government is ignoring a long-standing dispute over a border with China and Tibet.
Inaugurated by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday, the 80-kilometer (50-mile) Lipu Lekh road is the shortest route from New Delhi to Kailash-Mansarovar, a revered Hindu pilgrimage site in the Tibetan plateau.
The road cuts through the Lipu Lekh Himalayan pass, which is considered one of the shortest and most feasible trade routes between India and China. Nepal has fiercely contested India's claim on the territory, which it includes in contemporary boundary maps as part of the Indian state of Uttarakhand, since the early 19th century, because of its potential as an economic corridor.
Nepal views the alleged incursions as a stark example of bullying by its much larger neighbor.
“The Government of Nepal has learnt with regret about the ‘inauguration’ yesterday by India of ‘Link Road’ connecting to Lipu Lekh (Nepal), which passes through Nepali territory,” Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Saturday.
Nepal asked India “to refrain from carrying out any activity” on the road that has triggered a fresh dispute over the strategically important territory.
India quickly rejected Nepal's claims on Saturday, saying the road falls exclusively within India.
“India is committed to resolving outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue and in the spirit of our close and friendly bilateral relations with Nepal,” Indian foreign affairs spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement.
Nepal, which was never under colonial rule, has long claimed the areas of Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipu Lekh in accordance with the 1816 Sugauli treaty with the British Raj, although these areas have remained in control of Indian troops since India fought a war with China in 1962.
In 2015, Nepal opposed an agreement between India and China to promote Lipu Lekh as a bilateral trade route without its consent. Kathmandu also registered its opposition when New Delhi unveiled a new political map in 2019 that shows some disputed territories, including Lipu Lekh, as part of India.
Sedhai reported from Kathmandu, Nepal.