India, China troops have disengaged at Galwan, says army on clash that killed 20
Twenty Indian soldiers including the commanding officer of an infantry battalion were killed on Monday evening in a clash with Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan valley where soldiers of the two countries have been locked in a tense stand-off for 40 days, people familiar with the development told Hindustan Times.
In its initial statement early on Tuesday, the army had announced that an officer and two soldiers had been killed in action. By evening, an update by the army said 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 had succumbed to injuries.
The army statement issued on Tuesday evening also said the Indian and Chinese troops at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed “ have disengaged”.
The Chinese army also suffered casualties in the face-off but there was no immediate confirmation of the numbers.
The army statement came hours after the external affairs ministry rebutted the China that pointed fingers at Indian soldiers for provoking the clash. External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said Monday evening’s violent face-off took place in Galwan valley where the Chinese side “departed from the consensus to respect the LAC (Line of Actual Control)” and attempted to “unilaterally change the status quo”.
The external ministry ministry did not elaborate how the Chinese troops had tried to alter the status quo. Officials later said it could be a reference to an observation post set up by the Chinese troops on the Indian side of the LAC that was removed by Indian soldiers.
These are the first Indian casualties in a border skirmish with the People’s Liberation Army since October 1975 when Chinese troops ambushed an Indian patrol in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tulung La sector and shot four soldiers dead.
However, no shots were fired this time.
Hindustan Times has learnt rival soldiers exchanged blows, threw stones at each other and Chinese troops even attacked Indian soldiers with rods and nail-studded clubs during the brawl that went on for over six hours. However, this wasn’t the first time the two armies engaged in fisticuffs or used stones and rods to attack each other in the area.
The ongoing border scrap began with a confrontation between rival patrols near Pangong Tso on the night of May 5-6. The border row appears to have turned from bad to worse even as army delegations from India and China have held a series of discussions along the LAC to break the stalemate.
The deadly clash came on a day army delegations from India and China held talks at two locations along the LAC - brigadier-ranked officers met in the Galwan Valley and Colonel-ranked officers in Hot Springs - as part of continuing efforts to resolve the standoff.
As news of the border clash reached New Delhi last evening, Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane cancelled a scheduled visit to Pathankot and spent most of Tuesday at strategy meetings in New Delhi. Defence minister Rajnath Singh briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the developments along the LAC and also held two meetings with chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs to assess the ground situation and review options. External affairs minister S Jaishankar was also present in one of the meetings.
The external affairs ministry, which firmly pinned the blame for the clash on the Chinese side, linked the face-off to “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”.
“Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” Srivastava said.
The limited disengagement of forces at Galwan Valley, Patrolling Point 15 and Hot Springs had started after a meeting between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of Leh-based 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the People’s Liberation Army in the South Xinjiang region, on June 6.
Referring to the June 6 meeting where the two sides had agreed on a process for de-escalation, Srivastava said India had expected this would unfold smoothly but “the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the LAC”.
The situation remains tense at Pangong, which has been at the centre of the ongoing border scrap and where troops are still locked in a face-off.