NEW DELHI, June 16 - Twenty Indian Army personnel, including a colonel, were killed in a fierce clash with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on Monday night, the biggest military confrontation in over five decades that has significantly escalated the already volatile border standoff in the region.
The Indian Army initially said on Tuesday that an officer and two soldiers were killed. But in a late evening statement, it revised the figure to 20, saying 17 others who �were critically injured in the line of duty and exposed to sub-zero temperatures at the standoff location succumbed to their injuries�.
The officer killed in the clash was identified as Colonel Santosh Babu, Commanding Officer of the 16 Bihar Regiment, and a native of Telangana.
Government sources said the Chinese side too suffered �proportionate casualties� but chose not to speculate on the number.
It is the biggest confrontation between the two militaries after their 1967 clashes in Nathu La when India lost around 80 soldiers while over 300 Chinese army personnel were killed in the confrontation. The casualties take both sides into uncharted territory at a time when the government's attention is focused on fighting the COVID-19 crisis that appears to be ballooning by the day.
�Indian and Chinese troops have disengaged at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed on the night of 15/16 June 2020,� the Army statement said. It did not say how the casualties occurred and did not mention any firefight between the two sides. Indian military sources said no firearms were used in the clashes and that most of the injuries were sustained following stone-pelting and use of rods by the Chinese side.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday evening where he carried out a comprehensive review of the situation in eastern Ladakh where the two armies have been in a standoff for over five weeks.
It is understood that India decided to continue with a firm approach in dealing with China�s aggressive behaviour along the nearly 3,500 km de facto border.
Military sources said major activities by Chinese air force were observed along the areas in eastern Ladakh, adding that the two armies held Major General-level talks at the site of the clash.
In a statement, the External Affairs Ministry said the violent face-off was the result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo in the region and that both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided if the agreement arrived earlier was scrupulously followed by the Chinese side.
�Given its responsible approach to border management, India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. We expect the same of the Chinese side,� MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials were silent on the casualties suffered by the PLA troops, but Hu Xijin, the editor of the ruling Communist Party-run Global Times tabloid, tweeted to say that there are casualties on Chinese side too.
In its reaction, China alleged that the Indian troops twice crossed the de-facto border on June 15 for "illegal activities and provoked and attacked Chinese personnel� which led to serious physical conflict.
A large number of Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in Galwan Valley and certain other areas of eastern Ladakh for the last five weeks, including. in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie in eastern Ladakh.
Following the standoff in eastern Ladakh, the two sides have deployed additional troops along the LAC, the de-facto Sino-India border, in North Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh in the last few days, sources said.
The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long LAC. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet, while India contests it. � PTI