By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, Apr. 19: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plans to build a Special Tibetan Army Unit as efforts to recruit more Tibetans have reportedly been stepped up amid the long-winding border standoff with India, according to an anonymous source cited by the Hindustan Times. PLA is currently holding a special recruitment drives across the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) since the beginning of this year.
The source familiar with the military developments has said that PLA officials from Lhasa visited Rudok town in Ngari Prefecture in the far west of TAR in the third week of February to recruit Tibetans who were already at PLA camps. The report also indicated that the Chinese government intended to create a Special Tibetan Army Unit, citing intelligence reports and communication intercepts from three separate intelligence agencies.
PLA officials later travelled to Tsamda [Ch: Zanda] County, one of the border counties in TAR to select Tibetans for possible induction in the special unit. The military recruitment drive reportedly carried out the induction of a sizable number of Tibetans, against the backdrop of continued standoff in Ladakh. The source also told HT that PLA is expected to raise more border defence regiments consisting of Tibetans.
“These new recruitment drives are being held at a time when there are reports that mainstream Chinese troops from lower altitudes faced problems during their deployment in Tibet. We have intercepts showing their troops suffered from health problems such as severe mountain sickness and high altitude pulmonary oedema,” said an unnamed official in the report. “It is also meant to send a message to India and to Tibetans in India,” the official further added.
Last year, confrontations at the Indo-Tibetan border saw physical brawls which included ethnic Tibetans from both sides, according to sources. China’s official statistics from 2010, showed there were 2.1 million Han servicemen, compared to 4,300 Tibetans.
Last year in August, India deployed the Special Frontier Force (SFF), a secret paramilitary force comprising ethnic Tibetans for an operation against Chinese encroachment on the south bank of Pangong Lake. A Tibetan soldier, Tenzin Nyima, 53, was reportedly killed in a landmine blast during the operation, and Indian officials in a rare gesture attended his funeral, a move seen as a signal to China.
The disengagement process along the LAC has stalled after limited pullback of troops, armoured formations and artillery on north and south sides of the Pangong Lake, Ladakh in February. The latest official meeting between senior Indian and Chinese military commanders was held on April 9 without any concrete decision over sites such as Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra, though both New Delhi and Beijing have agreed to maintain stability on the ground to avoid any new incidents.