India says troops had 'minor face-off' with China in Sikkim border area

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing

By Sanjeev Miglani and Cate Cadell

NEW DELHI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a "minor face-off" last week in a disputed stretch of their shared border in the eastern Himalayas, the Indian army said on Monday, underlining the fraught situation at the border.

China said the two sides must refrain from escalatory actions.

Nuclear-armed India and China have been in a tense standoff since April in the western Himalayas and since then have bolstered forces all along the 3,800-km (2,350-mile) border.

"It is clarified that there was a minor face-off at Nakula area of North Sikkim on 20 January 2021 and the same was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols," the Indian army said in a statement. It gave no details.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he didn't have anything to offer on the incident but urged India to exercise restraint.

"I would like to stress though that China's border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquillity along the border with India. We urge the Indian side to work in the same direction as us and refrain from actions that might escalate or complicate the situation along the border," he told a regular news briefing.

"We hope both sides will take proper actions to manage their differences and take concrete actions to safeguard peace and stability along the border."

Sikkim is in the eastern Himalayas, thousands of miles away from Ladakh where the military crisis began last year and erupted into a hand-to-hand combat that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unspecified number of Chinese casualties.

Indian media reports said the latest row in Sikkim had resulted in injuries on both sides. The military offered no comment but advised caution on such reports. "Media is requested to refrain from overplaying or exaggerating reports which are factually incorrect," it said.

On Sunday, India and Chinese military commanders held talks running for several hours to try and find a way out of the stalemate. Several rounds of talks have been held over the past few months to disengage troops facing each other off on inhospitable mountains in freezing temperatures.

No word has yet emerged on the latest round of talks.

The editor-in-chief of China's state affiliated Global Times dismissed the Indian media reports of a clash as wrong.

"This is fake news. Based on what I learned, there is no record of this clash in the patrol log of the Chinese side," Hu Xijin said in a tweet.

"Small frictions often occur on China-India border area, but a clash that caused multiple injuries will definitely be recorded and reported," Hu said.

India and China went to war in 1962 and have not been able to settle their border dispute since then. Both lay claim to thousands of kilometres of territory in each other's control.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani, additional reporting by Vincent Lee and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan)