Twenty Indian troops have been killed in a clash with Chinese soldiers on the disputed Himalayan border, in what is the worst military crisis between the two countries in almost 60 years.
The deaths are the first in the border area – which has been the subject of disagreement between the two countries for decades – since 1975. They come amid renewed tensions between the two countries over the past few weeks. Indian and Chinese soldiers, who don’t usually carry weapons in the area in an attempted to keep the peace, have been involved in several non-fatal skirmishes recently, and both nations have been deploying troops and equipment to the region.
“During the de-escalation process under way in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday [Monday] night with casualties on both sides,” said a statement from the Indian army released on Tuesday afternoon, which initially only confirmed three deaths.
A later statement clarified that a further 17 Indian troops were “critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in high altitude terrain [had] succumbed to their injuries.”
The army said “senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation” and it was “firmly committed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation.”
Several troops are still missing according to government sources and the death toll is likely to grow. It is understood that fighting broke out on Monday evening when an Indian patrol unexpectedly encountered Chinese forces on a narrow ridge.
An Indian commanding officer was pushed and fell to his death, sources said, which led to reinforcements being called on both sides and up to 600 troops fighting hand-to-hand, using stones and iron rods as improvised weapons, with a number of casualties mostly caused by falling into the gorge. No shots were fired.
A statement by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs firmly placed the blame on the Chinese troops, stating that China had “departed from the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan valley” and it was due to this that “on 15 June, 2020, a violent face-off happened as a result of 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 high level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” the statement added.