File photo of MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava

New Delhi: In its first comment on the violent clashes between Indian and Chinese forces in Ladakh in which three Indian soldiers including a Colonel have been killed, the external affairs ministry said the violent face-off happened “as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”.

“Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in response to queries on the border situation.

A colonel-ranked army officer and two soldiers were killed in a violent face-off with People’s Liberation Army soldiers in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan valley late on Monday evening. The deadly border clash, which led to casualties on both sides, took place at one of the four locations in Ladakh where the two armies have been locked in a 40-day standoff.

In a statement earlier in the day, the Chinese foreign ministry and the PLA’s western command had blamed Indian soldiers for triggering the border clash. It had claimed that Indian soldiers had crossed the border, provoked PLA soldiers and attacked them. India’s sharp rebuttal came soon after.

Srivastava also underscored that all its activities were within the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. “We expect the same of the Chinese side,” he said.

“We remain firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity 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,” Srivastava said.

The Indian army had early on Tuesday issued a brief, terse statement on the Galwan valley clash that had led to at least three casualties on the Indian side. The army said there were casualties on the Chinese side too but did not get into the details. The Chinese side hasn’t acknowledged casualties.

But first the Chinese foreign ministry, and later the PLA Western Command’s Colonel Zhang Shuili in separate statements accused Indian soldiers of crossing the Line of Actual Control and launching, what they described as, “provocative attacks”. This resulted in a fierce physical confrontation between the two sides “that led to casualties”.

The People’s Liberation Army statement also appeared to lay claim to the Galwan valley, a significant development given that the Galwan valley hadn’t had too many instances of border intrusions.

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