June 17 (UPI) -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said his country will staunchly defend its territory two days after 20 Indian soldiers died in a hand-to-hand clash with Chinese troops in the Himalaya Mountains.
Modi made the vow while speaking during a televised meeting of India's chief ministers, his first public comments since the violent face-off late Monday in the high, narrow ridges of Himalayan range along the India-China border.
"I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our [troops] will not be in vain," the prime minister said. "For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important."
He added, "India wants peace, but if instigated, India at all costs is capable of giving an appropriate response."
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar talked by phone Wednesday and have agreed to let the situation "cool down" in the aftermath of the incident in the Galwan Valley, located along the "line of control" separating the countries.
Indian Army and Air Force bases along India's Ladakh border with China have been put on high alert, the Times of India reported.
Indian media said conflict involved unarmed troops wielding rocks, nail-studded sticks and other makeshift weapons, fighting hand-to-hand in near-total darkness for up to six hours along the steep passages. Soldiers died when they fell into the gorge below.
Beijing has not admitted any casualties although Indian military officials estimated at least 40 Chinese soldiers were killed or critically injured.
Strong disagreements remained over how the incident began.
The Indian government alleges it was a "premeditated" ambush on its troops by Chinese People's Liberation Army forces, while Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday said Indian troops "crossed the [line of control between the countries] for illegal activities, and provoked and attacked Chinese personnel."