China and India have accused each other of provoking fighting in which at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a disputed Himalayan border area.
Soldiers reportedly brawled with sticks, bats and bamboo sticks studded with nails in the late-night confrontation in the Ladakh region on Monday, June 15, 2020.
However, no shots were fired.
India’s army said that both sides suffered casualties. China confirmed the incident but did not give details.
The Indian statement notes that injured soldiers were “exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain”.
The fighting occurred in the precipitous, rocky terrain of the strategically important Galwan Valley, which lies between China’s Tibet and India’s Ladakh.
Indian media say soldiers engaged in direct hand-to-hand combat, with some “beaten to death”. During the fight, one newspaper reported, others fell or were pushed into a river.
The Indian army initially said a colonel and two soldiers had died. It later said that “17 Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty” and died from their injuries, taking the “total that were killed in action to 20”.
Both sides insist no bullet has been fired in four decades, and the Indian army said on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, that “no shots were fired” in this latest skirmish.
India’s foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said the clash arose from “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo” on the border.
China did not confirm the number of casualties but accused India in turn of crossing the border onto the Chinese side.
The clash has provoked protests in India, with people burning Chinese flags.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been under pressure to publicly address the issue, including from Rahul Gandhi, former leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party.
The last firing on the border happened in 1975 when four Indian soldiers were killed in a remote pass in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The clash was variously described by former diplomats as an ambush and an accident.
But there have been tense confrontations along the border in recent weeks.
India has accused China of sending thousands of troops into Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and says China occupies 38,000sq km (14,700sq miles) of its territory. Several rounds of talks in the last three decades have failed to resolve the boundary disputes.
The two countries have fought only one war so far, in 1962, when India suffered a humiliating defeat.
There are several reasons why tensions are rising again now – but competing strategic goals lie at the root, and both sides blame each other.