Combing on in Andhra Pradesh forests; 14 red sanders smugglers detained

Hyderabad: Fourteen alleged Red Sanders smugglers were detained even as combing operations on Wednesday in Seshachalam hill ranges of Andhra Pradesh to nab woodcutters on the run after a police operation in Chittoor district left 20 people dead.

"Combing is going on in Chittoor and Kadapa districts to nab the smugglers who are on the run after yesterday's exchange of fire," a senior police officer said.

20 people were gunned down yesterday in a police operation said to be against Red Sanders smugglers that came under severe attack from the government and political parties in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which claimed that many victims were labourers from their state.

Police had claimed that the task force and forest personnel, during a joint combing operation, spotted over 200 red sanders woodcutters involved in felling trees and they were asked to surrender. However, they attacked the police and forest personnel, injuring six policemen.

In retaliation, when police fired in "self-defence", 20 of the smugglers were killed and many others fled the scene, police had earlier said. Inspector General of Police (South Zone) V Venugopal Krishna told PTI that the postmortem of the killed woodcutters and smugglers was on at a hospital in Tirupati and the process to identify them was underway.

"We are in touch with Tamil Nadu Police in this regard and once the autopsy is done and identification process is over, the bodies will be handed over to their kith and kin," the IGP said.

"Fourteen red sanders smugglers were nabbed and a huge quantity of red sanders wood was seized from their possession along with five vehicles being used to transport the wood," Krishna said.

3.5 tonnes of the precious wood and five vehicles were seized, all estimated to be worth Rs one crore. The Andhra Pradesh government had in June 2013 formed a Special Task Force to check smuggling of red sandalwood. The STF comprises officers from police and forest departments and it has been carrying out raids on the hideouts across Kadapa, Chittoor, Nellore and Kurnool districts to check the rampant felling of the red sander trees.

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