The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement said that the clash took place even after senior commanders from the two countries met and agreed on a de-escalation.

The events at Galwan Valley that led to death of 20 Indian soldiers What reports sayImage for representation only
news Defence Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - 14:08

Twenty Indian Army soldiers of the 16 Bihar regiment were killed at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh following a violent faceoff with Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). While three soldiers — Army officer Colonel Santosh Babu, Commanding Officer of the 16 Bihar regiment, and soldiers K Palani and Sepoy KK Ojha — were first killed in the violence that broke out, the Indian Army later issued a statement that 17 more soldiers succumbed to their injuries and exposure to sub-zero temperature after the violence. 

“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, taking the total of those killed in action to 20,” a statement from the Indian Army said on Wednesday night.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement said that the clash took place even after senior commanders from the two countries met and agreed on a de-escalation. “While it was our expectation that this would unfold smoothly, the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan Valley,” the statement said.

“On the late-evening and night of 15th 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 higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in a statement. 

What triggered the standoff

The standoff began early last month. The Indian military leadership decided that Indian troops will adopt a firm approach in dealing with the aggressive posturing by the Chinese troops in all disputed areas of Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie.

The Chinese Army has been gradually ramping up its strategic reserves in its rear bases near the LAC by rushing in artillery guns, infantry combat vehicles and heavy military equipment. 

The trigger for the face-off was China's stiff opposition to India laying a key road in the Finger area around the Pangong Tso Lake besides construction of another road connecting the Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Galwan Valley.

The road in the Finger area in Pangong Tso is considered crucial for India to carry out patrol. India has already decided not to stall any border infrastructure projects in eastern Ladakh in view of Chinese protests.

The situation in the area deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on May 5 and 6. The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in north Sikkim on May 9.

A sizable number of Chinese Army personnel even transgressed into the Indian side of the de-facto border in several areas, including Pangong Tso.

The Indian Army has been fiercely objecting to the transgressions and demanded their immediate withdrawal for the restoration of peace and tranquillity in the area. Both sides had held a series of talks in the last few days to resolve the row.

In their first serious efforts to end the row, Lt General Harinder Singh, the general officer commanding of the Leh-based 14 Corps, and Commander of the Tibet Military District Maj Gen Liu Lin held a nearly seven-hour meeting on June 6.

The meeting was followed by two rounds of Major General-level talks. The Indian side has been pitching for the restoration of status quo ante and immediate withdrawal of thousands of Chinese troops from the areas which India considers on its side of the LAC.

What happened at LAC

The violent face-off took place two days after Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane said both sides have begun disengaging from Galwan Valley.

According to a report by national security analyst Nitin Gokhale, the clash took place on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control, near Patrolling Point 14. The Bihar regiment was waiting for the Chinese troops to fall back, but did not do so. A team of unarmed Indian soldiers, led by Commanding Officer Santosh Babu, went up to the Chinese side to hold talks and ask them to disengage.

However, around 300 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army suddenly attacked the group of about 50 Indian soldiers, including Commanding Officer Colonel Santosh Babu, who was in the front. No firearms were used, but the Indian soldiers were attacked with iron rods, boulders and wooden rods with nails. Three soldiers, including the Army officer, were grievously injured. They were escorted away.

The rest of the Indian soldiers retaliated and a fist fight broke out. The clashes escalated and many soldiers reportedly fell into the freezing Galwan river. 

According to a report by India Today’s Shiv Aroor, the clash went on for around three hours till midnight. The bodies of many soldiers were retrieved from the river, and this included Chinese and Indian troops.

The Indian Army issued a statement confirming the deaths of three soldiers. Later, the Army issued another statement that 17 more soldiers had succumbed to their injuries in sub-zero temperatures. While reports have stated that there have been casualties on the Chinese side as well, no numbers have been confirmed by China. 

China has claimed that the face-off happened on the Chinese side, a claim that has been vehemently dismissed by India.

"Given its responsible approach to border management, India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the LAC. We expect the same of the Chinese side," MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

“We remain firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas and the resolution of differences through dialogue. At the same time, we are also strongly committed to ensuring India's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.

While China has acknowledged that there have been casualties, it has not officially talked about the number of casualties suffered by the People's Liberation Army during the clash.

The PLA statement quoted by the Global Times as well as China Daily was silent on the casualties on the Chinese side.

Official sources who quoted US intelligence reports have pegged the number at around 35.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has reviewed the overall situation in eastern Ladakh with Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs. He took to social media on Wednesday to express sorrow at the loss of lives

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold an all-party meet on June 19 to discuss the situation at the India-China border areas.

(With PTI Inputs)

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