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India wants end to border tension with China but will not cede an inch of land: Rajnath Singh

NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said India wants an end to the border tension with China in eastern Ladakh but at the same time forcefully asserted that Indian soldiers will never allow even an inch of the country''s land to be taken away by anyone.

The defence minister made the remarks after performing ''Shastra Puja'' -- the customary worship of weapons -- on the occasion of Vijayadashami at the Sukna-based headquarters of the Indian Army''s 33 Corps in Darjeeling district of West Bengal.

"India wants an end to the ongoing border tension with China and the restoration of peace. This is our objective.

"But at times, some nefarious incidents keep happening. I am very confident that our soldiers will never allow even an inch of our land to be taken away by anyone," Singh said after the ceremony.

Chief of Army Staff Gen MM Naravane and several senior officers of the Army were present when the defence minister performed the puja at the key military base, which is responsible for guarding the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Sikkim sector.

Singh also inaugurated a 19.85 km-long new road in Sikkim through a video-conference from the key military base which is popularly known as ''Trishakti'' Corps.

"I can say with confidence and on the basis of concrete information that the courage and deeds of Indian soldiers during whatever has happened at the India-China border in Ladakh recently will be written in golden letters by the historians," the minister said without elaborating.

Twenty Indian soldiers laid down their lives while valiantly fighting a group of Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on June 15, an incident that had significantly escalated the border tension between the two countries.

China is yet to disclose the number of its soldiers killed and injured in the clash, though it has officially admitted to have suffered casualties. According to Indian officials, China suffered "heavy casualties" in the incident.

Indian troops also occupied a number of strategic heights in the Mukhpari, Rezang La and Magar hill areas around the southern bank of the Pangong lake in eastern Ladakh, after the Chinese military attempted to intimidate them in the area on the intervening night of August 29 and 30.

Both sides held a series of diplomatic and military talks to resolve the row that began on May 5, following a violent clash in eastern Ladakh. However, no breakthrough has been achieved to end the standoff.

The defence minister''s ''Shastra Puja'' at the strategically important military base was a message to India''s adversaries, a military official said.

"Shastra Puja is an integral part of India''s military tradition. Today, on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami, I had the good fortune to attend the Shastra Pujan ceremony held at the headquarters of ''Trishakti Corps'' at Sukhna," the minister said.

The defence minister was scheduled to perform the puja at Sherathang, a high-altitude border area near the LAC with China in Sikkim, but could not go there due to inclement weather, officials said.

After performing the puja, Singh inaugurated the ''Alternate Alignment'' road of the National Highway 310, which the officials described as a strategic asset as it will help in quick movement of troops in the Nathula sector. The road has been built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

In his address on the occasion, Singh complimented the BRO for its unwavering commitment towards delivering infrastructure of "outstanding quality" in record time and optimal costs.

"This new alignment will bolster defence preparedness in the Nathula sector. Congratulations to BRO for its unwavering commitment towards delivering outstanding quality infrastructure," he said.

"Till some time back, we had an odd notion that the development of roads in the border areas is not in our interest.

"It was believed that border roads could harm us in certain situations. We broke this perception and opened new areas of development in the border areas," the defence minister said.

Singh said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been regularly reviewing the progress of the projects being implemented in border areas and that flow of funds is being ensured to them at all times.

"Our government has been focusing on the construction of roads, bridges, tunnels and infrastructure in the border areas. Roads play an important role in the socio-economic development of any nation," he said.

The defence minister arrived at the Sukna-based headquarters of the 33 Corps on Saturday.

The defence minister also reviewed the combat preparedness of the Army during a high-level meeting at the military base.

The Army has significantly bolstered deployment of troops and weaponry along the nearly 3,500-km-long LAC, including in the Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh sectors.

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PTI