Itanagar, Sep 12 (IANS) Five men from Arunachal Pradesh, who went missing on September 2 but were later found to be in Chinese territory, were handed over to India by the People's Liberation Army on Saturday amid the ongoing standoff between the two countries at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.
The five returned to India nearly 10 days after they were allegedly abducted, defence sources said.
The youths were handed over to Indian authorities in Damai near Kibithu in Anjaw district of eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu and Union Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju thanked Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the Indian Army for the release of the youths.
“The Indian Army took custody of the five individuals at Kibithu on Saturday after completing all the formalities. They will now be quarantined for 14 days as per Covid-19 protocol and thereafter handed over to their families,” Defence PRO Lt Col Harsh Wardhan Pande said in a statement.
The Kibithu (Arunachal)-Damai (China) area is a place where the Indian and Chinese armies hold border meetings. Local media had reported that Toch Singkam, Prasat Ringling, Dongtu Ebiya, Tanu Baker, and Ngaru Diri — all belonging to the Tagin community — had gone to the forest for hunting when they were reportedly kidnapped near Nacho in Upper Subansiri district. The PLA had on Tuesday conveyed to the Indian Army that the five youths, who went missing on the Sino-Indian border in Upper Subansiri district, were found by them in their territory.
Defence sources had said that persistent efforts of the Indian Army led to the whereabouts of the five missing hunters, who had inadvertently crossed the LAC. Chief Minister Khandu said in a tweet: “Absolutely glad to know that five of our Arunachali youths have been safely handed over to Indian Army by Chinese PLA. I am wholeheartedly thankful to the Govt of India and the Indian Army for their persistent efforts in securing their return.”
Rijiju, who is the Lok Sabha member from Arunachal Pradesh, said in a tweet: “All the 5 Indian youths from Arunachal Pradesh who were received at Kibithu by our Army from PLA are fit and fine. I also thank Raksha Mantri @rajnathsingh ji for the concern he had shown.”
In a separate tweet the Union minister said: “I appreciate Indian Army for the smooth return of our citizens. I thank Indian Army Chief, his office and the local Commanders for constantly following up the matter and regularly updating me on the matter.”
Defence spokesman Lt Col Pande said that Arunachal Pradesh is known for its rich natural heritage and adventurous people fond of exploring nature for medicinal herbs and possessing traditional flair for hunting, which involves surviving off the land for weeks in jungles and far-flung remote areas.
“During such adventurous forays, at times, youth inadvertently stray to the other side of LAC. The Indian Army has always been proactive in tracing the lost locals and helping them return home. Three such incidents, including the latest one, took place in the current year in Upper Subansiri and West Siang districts. All such individuals were brought back home safely after consistent efforts and coordination by the Indian Army,” he said in a release.
The defence spokesman said: “The Indian Army had approached the PLA on hotline to trace and return the youths. On September 8, a response on the hotline confirmed that the missing individuals had been traced. The Indian Army, true to its ethos, has once again worked tirelessly for the well-being of the people of the northeast.”
According to the local media, the incident first came to light when two members of the group returned home from the forest and informed the villagers that the five were “abducted” by the PLA from Sera-7, an Indian Army patrol zone located about 12 km further north of Nacho. Nacho is the last administrative circle along the McMahon line and is around 120 kms from the Upper Subansiri district headquarters Daporijo, which is itself 280 kms from state capital Itanagar.
Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,080 km border with China. Union Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Rijiju on Friday announced that the PLA had confirmed to the Indian Army to hand over the youths from Arunachal Pradesh to India. On Tuesday, he had said that the PLA had responded to the hotline message from the Indian Army about the youths.
Congress' Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, Gaurav Gogoi, had urged Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to ensure the safe return of the five youths amid local media reports that the youths had been kidnapped. On September 3, the Indian Army had provided food, warm clothes, and medical assistance to three Chinese nationals who had lost their way in sub-zero temperatures in a border area in north Sikkim, at an altitude of 17,500 feet. The Indian troops deployed in the area also guided these Chinese, including a woman, to return home. The Chinese expressed gratitude to India and the Indian Army for their prompt assistance.