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LADAKH ON THE LINE: Colonel among 20 Indian soldiers dead

Screengrab from an earlier video showing confrontation between Indian and Chinese forces in Ladakh

Killed in violent standoff with Chinese troops in Galwan valley

Srinagar: In an extraordinary development in over four decades of India’s political and military relations with China, at least 20 Indian Army soldiers including a Colonel were killed during a stand-off between Indian and Chinese armies in Galwan Valley in Ladakh during the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday.

“During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties on both sides. The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers. Senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation,” read an official statement issued by Indian Army on Tuesday.

Later in the day, the Army issued another statement confirming the death of 17 more soldiers.

“Indian and Chinese troops have disengaged at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed on the night of 15/16 June 2020. 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 that were killed in action to 20. Indian Army is firmly committed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation,” read the fresh statement from Army.

Quoting sources, news agency ANI claimed that “more than 43 Chinese soldiers have been killed or seriously injured”, however officially the extent of casualties on the Chinese side was not immediately clear.

India said the clashes happened “as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”, rebutting China’s claims that Indian soldiers cross the border.

The unprecedented incident points out to the worsening situation between India and China along the Ladakh LAC.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, as per ANI, called on India “to not take unilateral actions or stir up trouble.”

Reports identified the slain officer as Colonel Santosh Babu, Commanding Officer of the 16 Bihar Regiment.

On hearing of his death, his mother said, “I am Proud of his sacrifice as a mother, but  I am very much in pain for his demise as he was my only son.”

Two of the slain soldiers were identified as Havaldar K Palani and Havaldar Sunil Kumar.

According to a senior military officer, it is the first incident involving the casualty of an Indian soldier in a violent clash with the Chinese Army after 1975 when four Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush at Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh along the de-facto border between the two countries.

The incident comes days after the Indian Army Chief said both sides have begun disengaging from Galwan Valley.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the current operational situation in eastern Ladakh along with Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was also present in the meeting.

Sources said Army Chief Gen MM Naravane’s visit to a base outside Delhi has been cancelled.

Large number of Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in Galwan Valley and certain other areas of eastern Ladakh for last five weeks.

China’s state-run newspaper Global Times claimed in a report that clashes were triggered by Indian troops as they crossed over to the Chinese side and carried out attacks on Chinese soldiers.

“Chinese military suffered casualties in border clash with India,” said Global Times Editor-In-Chief.

The Indian and Chinese armies are engaged in the standoff in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie in eastern Ladakh. A sizeable number of Chinese Army personnel even transgressed into the Indian side of the de-facto border in several areas including Pangong Tso.