20 Red Sander Smugglers Shot Dead

HYDERABAD: Twenty red sander smugglers were killed in the biggest-ever encounter in Andhra Pradesh between the smugglers and police forces in the Seshachalam forest area in Chandragiri Mandal of Chittoor district in the early hours on Tuesday.

According to the police while nine smugglers were killed in Eethagunta, 11 others died near Vachinodu Banda hamlets deep in the forest area. Many others who sustained injuries in the encounter escaped into the thick forest. All the smugglers belonged to Vellore district of the bordering Tamil Nadu. Two police personnel were also injured in the stone pelting by the smugglers.

Deputy Inspector-General of PoliceA�Kanta Rao, after visiting the scene of the two encounters, told the media that based on credible information a large number of smugglers along with hundreds of cooliesA�had sneaked into the Seshachalam forest area to cut the red sander trees.

The police and forest personnel organized a joint coming operation in the Seshachalam forests for some time.

On spotting the police, the smugglers and coolies rained stones on them and also tried to attack with knives, axes and other deadly weapons. The police chased the fleeing smugglers, who split into groups and tried to escape. The police then resorted to firing in self-defense killing 20 smugglers.

The police also launched a vigorous search for those who had escaped by sprucing up combing operations. Those escaped are believed to have fled into the neighboring Tamil Nadu state.

Confirming the shooting, AP Home Minister China Rajappa said there were two international smugglers in the dead. Efforts were being made to track down the escaped smugglers by intensifying the operations jointly by the police and forest personnel, he explained.

AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu summoned the ministers in Hyderabad to review the situation following the encounters in Seshachalam forests. DGP, Chief Secretary, Home Secretary and Intelligence officials were present at the review meeting. The Chief Minister asked and reviewed the details of the encounter from the officials. He was also informed that the District Collector had ordered a magisterial enquiry into the incident.

Red Sanders is a highly endangered plant which grows in the forests of Seshachalam and also in some forest areas of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states. Because of its high value and demand in international markets, smugglers sneak into the forest area and smuggle them out. As a result, police encounters have become common in those areas.

The most notorious and dreaded smuggler of all in India was Veerappan of Tamil Nadu, whose escapades attracted global attention as the modern-day Robin hood. He too was also killed in an encounter. (NSS)

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