Ten days after they strayed across the border during an expedition to hunt and collect medicinal herbs, five youths from Arunachal Pradesh were handed back to India on Saturday by the Chinese authorities, Indian Army officials confirmed.
“Indian Army took over all five individuals at Kibithu on 12 September, 2020 after completing all necessary formalities,” Lieutenant Colonel Harsh Wardhan Pande, PRO (Defence) based at Tezpur in Assam said in a release.
“The individuals will now be quarantined for 14 days as per Covid-19 protocol and thereafter be handed over to their family members,” it added.
According to the army, this was the third such instance of youths from Arunachal Pradesh living near the Indo-China border straying inadvertently to the other side of line of actual control (LAC) during “adventurous forays”.
“Indian Army has always been proactive in tracing the lost locals and helping them return home. Three such incidents took place in the current year in Upper Subansiri and West Siang district including the latest one,” the release said.
“All such individuals were brought back home safely after consistent efforts and coordination by Indian Army in the past,” it added.
The 5 youths from Tagin tribe, who used to work as porters for Indian Army, had gone missing on September 2 reportedly from Sera-7 in Upper Subansiri district on the Indian side of the McMohan line bifurcating Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet autonomous region (TAR) of China.
Following their disappearance, a brother of one of the missing youths posted on social media that they had been ‘abducted’ by PLA. The same accusation was made by Tapir Gao, BJP MP from Arunachal East and Congress MLA from Pasighat Ninong Ering in their tweets.
Responding to a hotline message sent by Indian Army, the People’s Liberation Army had informed on Tuesday that the youths have been found on the Chinese side and their condition was fine.
The disappearance of the youths and the allegation of their ‘abduction’ by PLA had added to the heightened tension between both countries.
On Monday, China’s state affiliated Global Times tweeted quoting Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. “China has never recognized so called ‘Arunachal Pradesh’, which is China’s south Tibet region, and we have no details to release yet about the question on Indian Army sending message to PLA about five missing Indians in the region”.