20 Indian soldiers confirmed dead in border dispute with China

16 June 2020, 19:09

Indians shout slogans during a protest against China in Ahmedabad, India
Indians shout slogans during a protest against China in Ahmedabad, India. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Indian Army has said 20 soldiers have died during a clash with Chinese troops on a disputed Himalayan border.

The army said in a statement that the two sides "have disengaged" from the disputed Galwan area, where they clashed overnight on Monday.

The army originally reported that three Indian soldiers had died, but later said 17 additional soldiers succumbed to injuries they suffered in the sub-zero temperatures of the high-altitude terrain.

China has accused Indian forces of carrying out "provocative attacks" on its troops and has not said if any of its soldiers have died.

Thousands of soldiers on both sides have been facing off for over a month.

The clash, during which neither side fired any shots, according to Indian officials, is the first deadly confrontation between the two Asian giants since 1975.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian. Picture: PA

Vivek Katju, a retired Indian diplomat, said the clash was a dramatic departure from the four-decades-old status quo of troops from the two countries facing off without any fatalities.

"The political class and the security class as a whole will have to do very serious thinking about the road ahead," he said.

The Indian army said in a statement earlier on Tuesday that a "violent face-off" took place in Galwan Valley in the Ladakh region on Monday night, "with casualties on both sides".

"The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers," the statement said. "Senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian gave no details of any casualties on the Chinese side, but said that China had strongly protested over the incident while still being committed to maintaining "peace and tranquillity" along the disputed and heavily militarised border.

"But what is shocking is that on June 15, the Indian troops seriously violated the consensus of the two sides, crossed the border illegally twice and carried out provocative attacks on Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical conflicts between the two border forces," Mr Zhao said.

There have been anti Chinese protests on the border
There have been anti Chinese protests on the border. Picture: PA

India's Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the incident happened "as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo" in the Galwan Valley.

Thousands of soldiers from the two countries, backed by armoured trucks and artillery, have been facing off just a few hundred metres apart for more than a month in the Ladakh region near Tibet.

Army officers and diplomats have held a series of meetings to try to end the impasse, with no breakthrough.

Indian authorities have officially maintained near-total silence on the issues related to the confrontation, and it was not immediately clear how the Indian soldiers died.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not comment on the clash in a televised meeting on Tuesday with state officials.

The tense stand-off started in early May, when Indian officials said that Chinese soldiers crossed the boundary in Ladakh at three different points, erecting tents and guard posts and ignoring verbal warnings to leave.

That triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights, much of it replayed on television news channels and social media.

China has sought to downplay the confrontation while saying the two sides were communicating through both their frontline military units and their respective embassies to resolve issues.

The disputed border covers nearly 2,175 miles of frontier that the two countries call the Line of Actual Control.