20 Indian soldiers killed in deadly border clash with China

By Jeffrey Gettleman, Hari Kumar and Sameer Yasir
The New York Times Company

NEW DELHI — Twenty Indian army troops were killed and dozens captured by Chinese soldiers late Monday in a clash along the disputed India-China border, Indian officials said, raising tensions between the world’s two most populous nations.

Preliminary reports Tuesday indicated the soldiers had not been shot but had been killed in a brawl involving rocks and wooden clubs that was similar to fights that broke out last month along the border and seriously injured several soldiers on both sides.

It was the first time in decades that soldiers were killed in a skirmish along the border, which traverses freezing terrain high in the Himalayas, military experts said. It was not immediately clear how India would respond to China, which has a much more powerful military.

An Indian military spokesman said three Indian troops were killed during the fighting and 17 others later succumbed to injuries. A senior Indian army officer said more than 20 Indian soldiers had also been captured and many might still be in Chinese custody.

Indian officials said they were trying to de-escalate the situation. They had just indicated that tensions with China were calming down after Indian and Chinese troops had faced off at several points high in the Himalayas in the past few weeks.

“During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties,” according to a statement in the Indian news media that was attributed to Indian military officials. “The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers. Senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation.”

In Beijing, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, said Indian forces had twice crossed the border illegally Monday and attacked Chinese personnel.

Indian television channels reported that several Chinese soldiers had been killed as well, citing high-level Indian government sources. But Chinese officials did not comment on that.

The spark for the recent tensions seemed to have been a road to a remote air force base that the Indian army is building through mountain passes in the Galwan Valley. Military analysts say that the road is fully within Indian territory but that the Chinese are determined to frustrate India’s efforts to upgrade its military positions.

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