Released after 60 hours by China, 10 Indian soldiers undergo debriefing
Intense negotiations through diplomatic and military channels, including three rounds of talks between senior military officers, led to the release of 10 Indian soldiers detained by the Chinese side during the violent brawl of June 15 in Galwan Valley, people familiar with developments said on Friday on the condition of anonymity.
The soldiers are being debriefed by senior officials at Leh, the headquarters of the army’s 14 Corps, on the over 60 hours they spent in Chinese custody, said one of the persons cited above.
“There’s a protocol for debriefing and that’s being followed,” he said.
Another person cited above said the 10 soldiers, including two majors and two captains, were returned to the Indian side on Thursday evening, three days after the violent face-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) left 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel, dead.
“The debriefing is critical. It will be a formatted military narration of what they went through in Chinese captivity. This will form the basis of what really happened during those three days and how was the military posturing and conduct of the people who detained them,” said Lieutenant General AS Lamba (retd), a former army vice chief.
The negotiations for their release were kept tightly under wraps due to concerns for the safety of the soldiers amid the heightened tensions between the two sides, said the first person cited above.
There was no official word on the development. All that the Indian Army and the external affairs ministry said on Thursday was that no Indian soldiers were “missing in action”.
“The release of the Indian soldiers reflects Chinese intent. It perhaps shows the Chinese want to de-escalate and disengage,” said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former director general of military operations.
However, a top retired army commander, who didn’t want to be identified, said China had already achieved what it set out to achieve – gaining control over Galwan Valley and the strategic feature Finger 4 near Pangong Tso where a significant Chinese build up has taken place over the last six weeks.
“The gesture of returning the soldiers is a message to the world that they [the Chinese] are not the aggressors and they have returned people who intruded into their territory,” he said.
The release of the 10 soldiers figured in three rounds of talks between Indian and Chinese delegations, led by major generals, near Patrol Point 14 in Galway Valley between Tuesday and Thursday. Major General Abhijit Bapat, commander of Karu-based headquarters 3 Infantry Division, and his Chinese counterpart, met for the third time on Thursday.
The meetings were part of ongoing military engagements to de-escalate the situation and to disengage on the disputed border. The two senior military officers have met seven times since the stand-off began in early May.
The 10 soldiers, after their release, were sent for a medical examination and were found to be in good health, said the second person cited above.
Monday night’s seven-hour brutal clash, involving more than 500 rival troops, also marked the first time India suffered combat fatalities in an incident involving Chinese troops since 1975.
Following reports that an unspecified number of soldiers were unaccounted for after Monday night’s clash, the Indian Army had on Thursday only said that none of its personnel was missing in action.
“It is clarified that there are no Indian troops missing in action,” the army said in a terse statement. An army spokesperson had said the statement was in reference to the article “In China-India Clash, Two Nationalist Leaders with Little Room to Give” published in The New York Times on Wednesday.
Asked about the specific issue of the status of Indian soldiers after the clash of June 15, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a weekly media briefing on Thursday:
“This has been clarified by the army earlier today afternoon that there are no Indian troops missing in action.”
China has so far not acknowledged any casualties among its troops, while 76 Indian soldiers were also injured. Army officials claimed 43 Chinese were killed or seriously injured, citing radio intercepts and other intelligence. The Chinese fatal casualties reportedly include a colonel-ranked officer but HT couldn’t independently verify this.
India has attributed the clash of June 15 on Chinese forces crossing to the Indian side of the LAC and attempting to build a structure. It has also rejected China’s People’s Liberation Army’s claim of sovereignty over the Galwan Valley.