Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh): India has moved hundreds of troops to the Chinese border along the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, but an army officer said Sunday that this was a routine winter exercise.
A news agency correspondent saw 60 to 70 trucks carrying soldiers proceeding towards the Chinese border in Tawang and nearby posts, snaking through a rough mountainous terrain at an altitude of over 14,000 feet.
Army officials denied they were deploying extra soldiers in the forward posts.
According to army commanders, the troop movement was part of "Operation Alert", a winter exercise that sees soldiers move into inhospitable border areas of Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast ahead of the bitter weather conditions that make the roads impassable due to heavy snowfall.
"There is no threat or no extra forces being sent to the border," an army commander told the correspondent requesting not to be named. "Reports of troop build up are rumours. Don`t read too much into army convoys moving to the border."
Local residents, however, said they had not seen such military activity in recent years.
"The movement of troops has surely increased," said Moni Lama, a Buddhist monk.
The border deployment comes amid persistent reports of Chinese incursions and Beijing`s opposition to the visit of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
China has denied any incursions by its army into India. And Indian officials say the number of border breaches has shown no dramatic increase to warrant undue worries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said: "We firmly oppose the Dalai (Lama) visiting the so-called `Arunachal Pradesh`." China disputes the ownership of Arunachal Pradesh.
India has said that the Dalai Lama is free to travel to any part of the country. The Tibetan spiritual leader has lived in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959 after a failed revolt against Communist rule.
Takam Sanjay, a ruling Congress MP from Arunachal Pradesh, said: "We welcome the Dalai Lama`s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. China has no reason to interfere in India`s internal matters."
It is through Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh that the Dalai Lama entered India.
The India-China border along Arunachal Pradesh is separated by the McMahon Line, an imaginary border now known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India and China fought a border war in 1962, with Chinese troops advancing deep into Arunachal Pradesh and inflicting heavy casualties on poorly armed Indian troops.
The border dispute with China was inherited by India from British rulers, who hosted a 1914 conference with the Tibetan and Chinese governments that set the border in what is now Arunachal Pradesh.
China has never recognised the 1914 McMahon Line and claims 90,000 sq km, including nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh. India accuses China of occupying 8,000 sq km in Jammu and Kashmir.
After 1962, tensions flared again in 1986 with Indian and Chinese forces clashing in Sumdorong Chu valley of Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese troops reportedly built a helipad in the valley leading to the fresh skirmishes.