India has reacted with shock and caution to the worst loss of life on its border with China in 60 years, with senior leaders largely silent on the hand-to-hand clashes in remote, inhospitable Himalayan territory in which at least 20 Indian soldiers died. Beijing also offered little information about the violence, but state media appeared to acknowledge on Tuesday that it had also led to Chinese casualties. A day after reports of the first killings in the disputed area emerged, Indian news outlets began naming some of the dead and a clearer picture started to build of what transpired on Monday night on the high, steep ridge lines above the fast-flowing Galwan River in the western Himalayas.
The killings were sparked when a patrol of Indian soldiers unexpectedly encountered Chinese troops in a steep section of the mountainous region they believed the People’s Liberation Army had retreated from, in line with a 6 June disengagement agreement, sources in Delhi said. The two armies jostled and hand-to-hand fighting broke out – neither side armed in line with decades of tradition supposed to ward off the possibility of escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Then an Indian commanding officer was pushed, fell from the narrow ridge and plunged to his death in the gorge below. Reinforcements from the Indian side were summoned from a post about 4km away and eventually about 600 men were fighting with stones, iron rods and other makeshift weapons in near-total darkness for up to six hours, Indian government sources said, with most deaths on both sides occurring from soldiers falling or being knocked from mountain terrain. The United Nations and US government have expressed concern over the outbreak of violence between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the disputed Himalayan border which saw at least 20 people killed. UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres urged both sides to exercise “maximum restraint”.