NEW DELHI: Chinese troops have now also pulled back from the confrontation site at Pangong Tso, though they are still to vacate the heights, setting the stage for the next meeting between Indian and Chinese corps commanders early next week to take forward the step wise disengagement process under way in eastern Ladakh.

PLA soldiers and their vehicles have now completely withdrawn from “the base” of Finger-4 eastwards to Finger-5 (mountainous spurs) on the north bank of Pangong Tso, as was agreed in the June 30 meeting of the corps commanders, said sources on Thursday.

Though PLA is yet to vacate the ridge-line that dominates the Finger-4 area, the over 800-metre pullback at the base is a “positive signal” for the completion of phase-I of the de-escalation plan decided between 14 Corps commander Lt Gen Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major Gen Liu Lin, said sources.

But PLA troops still remain in the Finger-5 to -8 area. India contends that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) runs north to south at Finger-8. “We will wait and watch over the next three to four days if the PLA also vacates the heights at Finger-4, where they have built several defences like pill-boxes, as was agreed in phase-I. It will obviously figure in the meeting of the corps commanders next week,” said a source.

Indian soldiers have also pulled back “a suitable distance” westwards towards their Dhan Singh Thapa post between Finger-2 and 3, in consonance with the plan to disengage at all the friction points to reduce chances of a clash between the rival troops. The two armies over the last few days have pulled back troops by 1.5 to 2-km each at Patrolling Point-14 (PP-14) in Galwan Valley, PP-15 and PP-17A in the Gogra-Hot Springs area, as was reported by TOI.

But the troop confrontation at Pangong Tso, the brackish water lake situated at an altitude of 13,900 feet across the Changla Pass, seemed the most intractable. Since early May, over 3,000 PLA troops have occupied the 8-km stretch from Finger-4 to 8, building a large number of fortifications as well as occupying the ridge-lines.

“The fourth round of talks (after June 6, 22 and 30) will also focus on the next phase of de-escalation like withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the vicinity of the four friction points with specified time-lines and modalities,” he added.

Lt-Gen Singh will also take up the blocking of Indian patrols at PP-10, 11, 12 and 13 in the Depsang Plains area, a strategically-located tabletop plateau to the north of Galwan, after PLA troops intruded deep into what India considers its territory, as was earlier reported by TOI.

“India will reiterate its patrols should not be blocked from reaching their PPs in Depsang (India overall has 65 PPs along the LAC in eastern Ladakh). This will help towards overall reduction in tensions,” said the source.

The primary aim in phase-I of the de-escalation plan was to reduce the chances of violent clashes by creation of temporary no-patrolling zones at the confrontation sites, with both sides suspending all activities there to cool down tensions and rebuild trust that was shattered by the bloody skirmish on June 15.

“It has nothing to do with acceptance of claims lines or a new LAC. There is no loss of any territory or patrolling rights, perceived or otherwise. The moratorium on patrolling to our PPs is temporary. It will be resumed once the disengagement is over,” said the source.