20 Indian soldiers including the commanding officer of an infantry battalion were killed on Monday evening in a clash with Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh's Galwan valley where soldiers of the two countries have been locked in a tense stand-off for 40 days, people familiar with the development told Hindustan Times.
In its initial statement early on Tuesday, the Indian army had announced that an officer and two soldiers had been killed in action. By evening, an update by the army said 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 had succumbed to injuries.
The army statement issued on Tuesday evening also said the Indian and Chinese troops at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed " have disengaged".
The Chinese army also suffered casualties in the face-off but there was no immediate confirmation of the numbers.
The army statement came hours after the external affairs ministry rebutted the Chinese accusations that blamed Indian soldiers for provoking the clash. External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said Monday evening's violent face-off took place in Galwan valley where the Chinese side "departed from the consensus to respect the LAC (Line of Actual Control)" and attempted to "unilaterally change the status quo".
The external ministry ministry did not elaborate how the Chinese troops had tried to alter the status quo. Officials later said it could be a reference to an observation post set up by the Chinese troops on the Indian side of the LAC that was removed by Indian soldiers.
These are the first Indian casualties in a border skirmish with the People's Liberation Army since October 1975 when Chinese troops ambushed an Indian patrol in Arunachal Pradesh's Tulung La sector and shot four soldiers dead.
However, no shots were fired this time.
Hindustan Times has learnt rival soldiers exchanged blows, threw stones at each other and Chinese troops even attacked Indian soldiers with rods and nail-studded clubs during the brawl that went on for over six hours. However, this wasn't the first time the two armies engaged in fisticuffs or used stones and rods to attack each other in the area.