New Delhi, June 19 (The Hindu): Three days after clashes in the Galwan Valley of Ladakh left 20 Indian soldiers dead, the Chinese on Thursday evening released 10 Indian Army personnel, including a Lieutenant Colonel and three Majors, from their custody.
A security source told The Hindu that all 10 persons were released around 5 p.m. after an agreement was reached at the Major General-level talks on Wednesday evening and they were returned unharmed.
Ladakh face-off | China’s People’s Liberation Army planned attack in Galwan for at least two days, says senior government official
Separately, the Army clarified in a statement that there were “no Indian troops missing in action”.
Soldiers Were Armed’
In another development, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said the Indian troops, who were outnumbered and attacked by the Chinese side, carried arms.
“All troops on border duty always carry arms, especially when leaving post. Those at Galwan on June 15 did so. Long-standing practice (as per 1996 & 2005 agreements) not to use firearms during faceoffs,” Dr. Jaishankar said on Twitter, in response to a tweet from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Article VI of the 1996 agreement between India and China on “Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) in the military field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas” says, “Neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers from the line of actual control. This prohibition shall not apply to routine firing activities in small arms firing ranges.”
Commenting on the 1996 agreement, former Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag said these agreements apply to border management and not while dealing with a tactical military situation. “Lastly when lives of soldiers or security of post/territory threatened, Commander on the spot can use all weapons at his disposal including artillery,” he said on Twitter.
The third round of talks at the Major General-level were held in the Galwan area. Specific outcomes from Thursday’s meeting were not immediately known, but a source said the talks were positive and there would be more meetings in the coming days. The effort was to reduce tensions on the ground and implement the consensus agreed on June 6 for de-escalation, the source added.
Government sources cite U.S. intelligence to claim China suffered 35 casualties
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) meticulously planned the attack on Indian troops in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan for at least two days, a senior government official said.
The Chinese blocked small rivulets in heightened areas, releasing water at high speed when Indian Army personnel appeared at the disputed site in Galwan area on June 15. “The strong gush of water made the men lose balance. The Chinese charged, pushed the Army personnel and many fell into the Galwan river,” the official said.
The Chinese did a reconnaissance by flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to see the strength of the Indian troops and accordingly bolstered their presence on the other side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the official stated.
The Hindu reported on Wednesday that the clash took place after Colonel Santosh Babu, who was commanding the unit, dismantled a tent erected by the Chinese and later set it on fire. During the June 6 military level talks, the two sides decided to remove the tent. It has now emerged that the tent was destroyed two days before the June 15 clash. When Indian troopers were patrolling the contested site, the Chinese threw boulders on them and unleashed strong current of water by unblocking the rivulets.
The Chinese were wearing body protectors, helmets and carried spiked batons, the official noted.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had issued a statement that the “Chinese side took premeditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties.”
The official said, “The patrolling team walked into an ambush. The area had witnessed clashes on May 5 and the attack took place despite a high alert. The men were outnumbered by the Chinese. No gunshot was fired”.
As reported, some men “died on the spot” and the exercise to locate the missing bodies continued till late hours of June 16. As many as 20 Army personnel were killed and several injured.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), deployed with the Army along the LAC, helped move the injured to the base camp the next day. An ITBP rescue team trekked 3-4 km the next day to evacuate the injured.
At least 20 helicopter sorties from the base camp in Galwan were undertaken to evacuate the injured and retrieve the bodies.
The clash, a first of its kind in the last 45 years, came amidst a “de-escalation” process that was started last week after a month long stand-off between troops at several points along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim.
The Indian Army had stated that both sides had disengaged from the site of the clash. However, both sides continue to retain a large number of troops in the general Galwan area following the build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after the violent scuffle at Pangong Tso on May 5 and the standoff since.
In the first combat fatalities in 45 years along the LAC, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash after they were attacked by Chinese troops. About 80 Indian troops were also injured and all of them are said to be stable.
The Chinese PLA Western Theatre Command spokesman Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili said on Tuesday that the clash in the Galwan Valley had led to casualties on both sides, but so far China has not revealed the number of any dead or wounded.
(Photo shows cremation of an Indian soldier in Bihar)