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A Colonel was among 20 Indian soldiers killed in a “violent face-off” with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh, the Indian army said late on June 16, in the most serious escalation between the two countries along the border in five decades. Reports said that 43 Chinese soldiers have been killed or seriously injured during the incident. India blamed the clashes on “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”, rebutting China’s claims that Indian soldiers crossed the border.

The country’s top political establishment met late on June 16, shortly after the army confirmed that 20 Indian soldiers were killed in Ladakh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and military chiefs were at the meeting that took place around 10 pm.

An Indian army source in the region said the incident involved no shooting but “violent hand-to-hand scuffles”. The soldiers threw punches and stones at each other and the Chinese troops allegedly used rods and nail-studded clubs during the fight that lasted for hours until midnight on June 15, according to reports.

China’s defence ministry confirmed the incident had resulted in casualties but did not give details. The United States — which has mounting frictions with China, but sees India as an emerging ally — said it is hoping for a “peaceful resolution”, and that it was monitoring the situation closely.

The UN called for both sides to “exercise maximum restraint”.

Beijing claimed Indian soldiers “crossed the border line twice… provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides”. Foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava, rejecting China’s aggressive claims, said the clash arose from “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo” on the border.

The violence followed weeks of tension since May 9, when several Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in a clash involving fists and stone-throwing at Naku La in Sikkim.

The massive escalation took place while both sides were in talks to resolve tensions at the border and spoke of “consensus”.Reports said that Chinese troops remained in parts of the Galwan Valley and of the northern shore of the Pangong Tso lake that they had occupied in recent weeks.

India and China fought a brief war in 1962 in which China took territory from India. Further deadly clashes followed in 1967, but the last violent clash that resulted in deaths was in 1975, when four Indian soldiers were ambushed and killed along the dividing line in Arunachal Pradesh.

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