20 smugglers gunned down in Andhra forest

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Hyderabad/Chennai: At least 20 smugglers of red sanders — an expensive wood used in aphrodisiac drugs and to make musical instruments — were gunned down by police on Tuesday in two gunfights in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district, police said.

The police opened fire after they came under attack by the smugglers in Seshachalam forest in two places within a radius of one km in Chandragiri mandal of Chittoor, about 500 km from Hyderabad.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (Task Force) M. Kanta Rao told IANS that over 100 smugglers and labourers helping them attacked policemen, forcing them to open fire in self-defence.

“They attacked task force personnel with sickles and other sharp-edged weapons and the police had to open fire in self defence,” he told IANS.

He said the shoot-out happened between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“We are ascertaining the number of policemen injured,” the officer said.

The task force and forest officials continued joint combing operations of the remaining smugglers and labourers who escaped in the forests.

The officer said they were yet to identify those killed but they were all believed to be from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

The police and forest personnel launched joint operations on Monday night following tip-off about smugglers entering the forests.

The security personnel had acted after receiving information that trees were being felled.

Classified as endangered in International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, red sanders fetches Rs.25 lakh per tonne in the international market. It is mainly used in aphrodisiac drugs and for making musical instruments and furniture.

In Andhra Pradesh, red sanders grows mainly in the Seshachalam hill ranges spread across Kadapa, Chittoor and Kurnool districts in the Rayalaseema region and parts of Nellore district. The area under red sanders is estimated to be 4.67 lakh hectares.

The forests in recent months witnessed bloody clashes between red sanders smugglers and police.

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