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20 Indian soldiers killed in China border brawl in updated release

People's Liberation Army soldiers at Shenyang training base in China, March 24, 2007. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force)
June 17, 2020

Indian Army officials have revised their casualty assessment from a Monday night border clash with Chinese troops.

The Indian Army initially stated three soldiers had been killed in a brawl with Chinese troops over the contested Himalayan border region of the Galwan Valley. A revised Indian Army statement reported by The Associated Press now says 20 of its troops were killed.

India had indicated no shots were fired during the clash with Chinese troops and that the two sides instead threw rocks and fought hand-to-hand.

Soldiers “who were critically injured in the line of duty at the standoff location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries,” India said of the 17 additional deaths.

India and China have disputed control of the Galwan Valley, located in the Ladakh region for years and fights between border troops have occurred in the past, however, the Monday clash was the first violent incident between India and China involving fatalities since 1975.

In its initial assessment, the Indian Army also indicated casualties on the Chinese side, though Chinese officials themselves have not yet confirmed any casualties on its side.

Wang Wenwen, a reporter for the Chinese state-media outlet Global Times also tweeted Tuesday that five Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers were killed.

“Reports say 5 PLA soldiers were killed and 11 were injured at LAC China-India border yesterday,” she tweeted.

Wang later backtracked her tweet.

“I cited an Indian source of @NewsLineIFE about a physical clash at LAC China-India border yesterday. No confirmation from the official Chinese source regarding casualties yet. It is unprofessional for Indian media to say this is official news from the Chinese side. @IndiaToday.”

The exact cause of the brawl has also been disputed by sources from both sides.

In a statement following the brawl, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said Indian soldiers violated the established border agreements and instigated the clash.

“Our border troops had a high-level meeting and reached important consensus on easing the border situation,” Zhao said of the incident. “But astonishingly on June 15, the Indian troops seriously violated our consensus and twice crossed the border line for illegal activities and provoked and attacked Chinese personnel which led to serious physical conflict between the two sides.”

Official Indian statements have not discussed the cause of the brawl but unnamed Indian sources reported by NDTV, said the brawl began after rocks were thrown at an Indian officer, Col. B.Santosh Babu. After the stones were thrown, other Indian soldiers retaliated and the brawl began. Babu was one of the first three fatalities disclosed on the Indian side.

The border between India and China has been disputed since the early 1990s. In 2017, Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed along another stretch of the border in the Himalayan region. Video at the time emerged of Indian and Chinese soldiers brawling and throwing stones at each other.