China releases 10 Indian soldiers after intense negotiations
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.
The people, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 10 soldiers, including at least two officers, were returned to the Indian side on Thursday evening, three days after the violent face-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that left 20 soldiers, including a colonel, dead.
These negotiations were kept tightly under wraps due to concerns for the safety of the soldiers amid the heightened tensions between the two sides, the people said.
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There was no official word on the development. All that the Indian Army and the external affairs ministry had said on Thursday was that no Indian soldiers were “missing in action”.
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. Maj Gen 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 people further said the 10 soldiers, after their release, were sent for a medical examination and were “debriefed” by officials.
The last time the Chinese military had captured Indian soldiers was during the border war between the two countries in 1962. 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 were 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” 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 some 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.
A top retired army commander, who didn’t want to be identified, said: “China has already achieved what it set out to achieve – control over Galwan Valley and [the strategic feature] Finger 4. 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.”