In the first such escalation in violence between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 45 years, a violent clash between their troops left one Commanding Officer and two jawans of the Indian Army dead in the Galwan area of Eastern Ladakh on Monday night. Reports indicating the casualty figures are even higher could not be confirmed officially.
The clash came amidst a “de-escalation” process that was started last week after a month long stand-off between troops at several points along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim.
Also read | There has been no firing on the border since 1975 .
“During the de-escalation process under way in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties on both sides,” the Army said in a statement on Tuesday.
Senior military officials met at the venue of the clash to defuse the situation, the Army stated.
As news of the brutal clash which, according to sources, included the use of iron clubs and rocks by the Chinese troops emerged, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the operational situation along with the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), the three Service chiefs and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
Rajnath briefs PM
Subsequently, he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to brief him of the situation. However, neither Mr. Modi nor his Cabinet colleagues made any statement on the issue.
Accusing Chinese troops of “attempting to unilaterally change the status quo” in the Galwan valley, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the casualties “could have been avoided” had agreements made by military commanders over the past week been followed by the Chinese side. “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,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
In a statement, The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) accused India “of going back on its word” and “violating commitments” reached by both sides at Corps Commander level talks on June 6.
The Indian Army “violated its commitment and crossed the LAC again, illegally and deliberately launched provocative attacks, triggered fierce physical confrontation between the two sides, resulting in casualties,” said PLA Western Theater Command spokesperson Zhang Shuili, making the claim that “the sovereignty of the Galwan valley region has always belonged to [China]”, something India has always contested.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China has “lodged strong protest and representation with the Indian side”. It is understood this was conveyed in meetings on Tuesday held between Indian Ambassador to China Vikram Misri and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui.
The casualties in combat action have increased pressure on the government to make a full statement on the month long stand-off, as demanded by Opposition parties.
Last Saturday, in the first acknowledgement of the ongoing stand-offs, Gen. Naravane stated that troops of India and China were “disengaging” in a phased manner from the stand-off areas along the border following the series of ground talks and even claimed that a lot of disengagement had happened in the Galwan river area.
Neither the Army nor the MEA gave further details of the clash in the Galwan valley. Sources said the Indian Army patrol had set out to check on positions of the Chinese troops to ensure they had retreated. The troops were attacked by a much larger group of Chinese soldiers, said the sources, who did not wish to be identified.
While face-offs and stand-offs keep occurring on the LAC and even pelting of stones and fistfights between troops, there has been no instance of firing on the 3,488 km long LAC since 1975. The last incident of firing and fatalities occurred in October 20, 1975 when a patrol team of the Assam Rifles was ambushed by Chinese troops at Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh, resulting in the death of four personnel.