While neither country publicly acknowledged that Indian soldiers had been captured, Indian security officials confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that soldiers had been returned, and that none of the troops were mistreated during their detainment.
A spokesman for the Indian army declined to confirm or deny the release of Indian soldiers by China. The army issued a brief statement Thursday night stating, “no Indian troops missing in action.” The quiet release of soldiers has been seen as a move to aid a de-escalation of tensions following a border clash that broke out on Monday between the two countries.
When asked if China had released any of the soldiers, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official merely said that China had no Indian people in custody.
“It was untenable for China to continue to hold Indian soldiers hostage and also seek peace at the border simultaneously,” said N.C. Bipindra, a defense and strategic affairs analyst in New Delhi.
At least three rounds of talks have taken place between local military leaders since Monday night’s incident in which hundreds of troops from both sides engaged in a brutal melee using fists, rocks and clubs. India reported that some 20 troops had died with dozens more injured. China did not declare any casualties.
President Modi immediately blamed China for the incident, which broke out during a meeting on de-escalating tensions. A colonel in charge of the Indian troops was supposedly the first to be attacked and killed, according to Reuters.
“We never provoke anyone,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during a Wednesday broadcast. “There should be no doubt that India wants peace, but if provoked, India will provide an appropriate response.”
Modi then on Friday claimed that India’s borders were secure and the military was capable of defending them. He said that India would continue to rapidly develop its border infrastructure, and would not bow to external pressure, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian offered a different take, claiming Indian soldiers “crossed the line, acted illegally, provoked and attacked the Chinese, resulting in both sides engaging in serious physical conflict and injury and death.”
The overall situation there now is stable, Zhao says.
Skirmishes along an informal border between the two countries have broken out more frequently in recent years. No fight has turned deadly since 1975. Soldiers injured in the most recent brawl are expected to return to duty in about two weeks.
Greg Norman contributed to this report.