Thirteen Indian soldiers were last night understood to have been killed in hand-to-hand clashes in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh last night by Chinese troops as the threat of a full-blown war intensifies.
Four more are missing and a further 32 Indian soldiers were handed back after being captured, Indian army sources told The Daily Telegraph. That compares to initial reports suggesting three had died.
One tweet from a senior reporter at the pro-Beijing Global Times in China suggested five of their troops had been killed, and eleven injured, but that remained unconfirmed.
His editor, Hu Xijin, posted on Twitter: “Based on what I know, Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley physical clash. I want to tell the Indian side, don’t be arrogant and misread China’s restraint as being weak. China doesn’t want to have a clash with India, but we don’t fear it.”
They are the first casualties to be suffered by either Asian superpower along their 3,488km border since 1975.
Chinese and Indian troops typically do not carry weapons on the Line of Actual Control, in an attempt to avoid fatalities or diplomatic escalation of tensions, and it is understood these clashes were with stones and batons.
India and China have been facing-off for over a month in Ladakh in Kashmir after Chinese troops crossed the so-called Line of Actual Control on May 5 and 6 to occupy over 60 kilometres of Indian territory at four locations – Pangong Tso, Galwan River, Demchok and Hot Springs.
The Indian Army has published a revised statement regarding the clash, stating that there were casualties on both sides.
“During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday [Monday] night with casualties on both sides,” the Indian Army statement said, “The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers.”
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that its troops had acted in self-defence after two Indian soldiers had crossed into Chinese territory on Monday: “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides.” It added that it had “solemnly demanded that the Indian side strictly restrain the frontline troops” and “maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas”.
An unnamed Indian officer has told Agence France Presse that no gunshots were fired and the fatalities were the result of “violent hand-to-hand scuffles”.
A former Indian Army officer told the Telegraph that contrasting statements from either side meant it was difficult to establish who was to blame at this stage.
“The Chinese side is issuing aggressive statements and the Indian side has taken a defensive position,” he said.
“How these soldiers have been killed we have no idea because there are contradicting statements coming out. However, we can say the aggressive tone suggests China won’t retreat and defensive tune means India doesn’t want any escalation. They [People’s Liberation Army] are aggressive, they won’t retreat.”
The Indian Army has said talks between the two militaries are underway to defuse tensions and it will hold a press conference later today.
Last week, the Telegraph revealed that at least 12,000 Chinese troops had occupied 60 square kilometres of Indian-administered Ladakh, in response to India’s ever-closer relationship with the United States.
The Chinese forces were able to cross the border and annexe unprotected territory after India had failed to recommence patrols due to the coronavirus outbreak.
India and China fought the Sino-India war and agreed a ceasefire in 1962, establishing a Line of Actual Control which separates Indian-controlled Ladakh from Chinese-controlled Tibet.
For decades, it has been an uneasy truce and troops from either side have sporadically engaged in fist-fights with one another.