New Delhi , June 16 : Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in a “violent face-off” with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh, the army said today, in the most serious escalation between the two countries along the border in five decades.
News agency ANI claimed that sources had confirmed 43 Chinese soldiers have been killed or seriously injured because of intercepts, though the army’s statement did not refer to this. A statement in the morning that confirmed the death of a Colonel and two jawans spoke of “casualties on both sides”. India blamed the clashes on “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”, rebutting China’s claims that Indian soldiers crossed the border.
Colonel B Santosh Babu of the Bihar regiment, Havildar Palani and Sepoy Ojha laid down their lives for India, the army confirmed earlier today. “17 Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries. Indian Army is firmly committed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation,” the army’s fresh statement said tonight.
The statement opened by saying Indian and Chinese troops “have disengaged” at the Galwan area where they earlier clashed on the night of June 15/16, indicating that they do not expect any fresh violence in the area.
India said the clash arose from “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo” on the border. “India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. We expect the same of the Chinese side,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava.
The clash took place just as Chinese troops were getting ready to move away from a location per an agreement that was part of recent talks between the two sides to defuse tension. The Colonel was reportedly assaulted with stones and Indian soldiers retaliated, which led to close unarmed combat for several hours. The soldiers disengaged after midnight.
Beijing, in an aggressive statement, accused India of crossing the border, “attacking Chinese personnel”. China’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by Reuters as saying India should not take unilateral actions or stir up trouble.
The only admission of casualties on the Chinese side came from the editor of their government mouthpiece Global Times. “Based on what I know, Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley physical clash. I want to tell the Indian side, don’t be arrogant and misread China’s restraint as being weak. China doesn’t want to have a clash with India, but we don’t fear it,” tweeted Hu Xijin, Editor-in-Chief of Global Times.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held meetings with Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met with military chiefs twice as India discussed a response to the escalation.
For more than six weeks, soldiers from both sides have been engaged in a stand-off on at least two locations along the Line of Actual Control — the 3,488 km de-facto boundary between India and China, and rushed additional troops to the border. They have been facing each other at the Galwan River, which was one of the early triggers of the 1962 India-China war, and at the Pangong Tso — a glacial lake at 14,000 feet in the Tibetan plateau.
As part of the talks to defuse tension, the Chinese Army pulled back its troops from the Galwan valley, PP-15 and Hot Springs. The Indian side also brought back some of its troops and vehicles from these areas.
AFP quoted Indian sources and news reports as suggesting that Chinese troops remained in parts of the Galwan Valley and of the northern shore of the Pangong Tso lake, which caused the clash. China has been upset about the Indian construction of roads and air strips in the area, say diplomats. The government has pushed for improving connectivity and by 2022, 66 key roads along the Chinese border will have been built. One of these roads is near the Galwan valley that connects to Daulat Beg Oldi air base, which was inaugurated last October.