New Delhi, Jun 17 (efe-epa).- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisted on Wednesday that India wanted peace with China but warned of a strong response if provoked by Beijing.
Modi was speaking in response to a clash between the Indian and Chinese forces on the night between Monday and Tuesday, in which at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed, marking the worst incident in 45 years between the two sides.
“India wants peace, but if provoked, it is capable of giving a fitting reply under any circumstances,” Modi said in a televised meeting with chief ministers of different states on the Covid-19 crisis.
“The country will be proud of our brave martyred soldiers that they died fighting,” Modi said.
The prime minister and the state leaders observed a two-minute silence as a mark of respect for the deceased soldiers.
Indian army said in a statement on Tuesday that a “violent face-off” on Monday night between Indian and Chinese soldiers at the Galwan valley in Ladakh had resulted in the death of 20 its personnel.
Three soldiers, including a colonel rank officer, were killed on the spot while 17 others, who were critically injured at the standoff location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high-altitude terrain, succumbed to their injuries later.
The statement said that were “casualties on both sides” but China has so far not confirmed any injuries or deaths among its troops.
The death of Indian soldiers has led to widespread outrage in the Indian media and political circles, with Rahul Gandhi – one of the main opposition leaders belonging to the Indian National Congress – targeting the prime minister on the issue.
“Enough is enough. We need to know what has happened. How dare China kill our soldiers? How dare they take our land?” Gandhi tweeted on Wednesday morning, questioning Modi on his “silence” hours before the prime minister’s brief speech on the incident.
Later during the day, Modi’s office announced he had called for a virtual meeting of all major political parties on Friday to discuss the border situation.
According to the Indian army, the incident took place just before the two sides disengaged militarily after nearly a month of tensions and altercations close to the de-facto border between China and India.
India had on Tuesday accused China of trying to “unilaterally change the status quo in the region.”
“Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in a statement.
However, his Chinese counterpart, Zhao Lijian, blamed India for the incident, claiming it was Indian troops that had “violated” the consensus reached between the two sides during a bilateral meet on Jun. 6.
“They crossed the border twice to conduct illegal activities and launched provocative attacks against Chinese personnel, leading to a serious encounter between troops from both sides,” said Zhao, according to official Chinese daily Global Times.
However, both countries have called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The border clash led to a number of anti-China protests at different places across India, including New Delhi, Bengaluru (south), and the northern city of Jammu, where dozens of people gathered to shout slogans against the neighboring country and burned photographs of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two nuclear-powered neighbors have been locked in a bitter border standoff simmering for weeks, after India allegedly started constructing roads and an airstrip in the disputed Himalayan region, which is also partly claimed by Pakistan.
There have been reports of the two sides reinforcing their defenses on the de-facto border called the Line of Actual Control (LAC), raising fears about an extended standoff between the two countries that fought a brief border war in 1962.