TIRUPATI:In a major crackdown on red sanders smugglers and woodcutters, the Andhra Pradesh police killed as many as 20 of them — all natives of Tamil Nadu — in an ‘encounter’ in the Seshachalam forest area early Tuesday. Among the dead were two alleged international smugglers. Among the injured were 11 policemen.
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The Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force (RSASTF) and forest department personnel, who came face-to-face with the smugglers and woodcutters during combing operations, killed them in ‘self-defence.’ RSASTF DIG M Kantha Rao said the encounter took place around 5 a.m. between Eethamagulagunta and Cheekamagulagunta on way to Srivari Mettu. The killing of the 20 men sparked protests in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. By evening, AP buses arriving in Chennai were attacked with stones and at some places, even petrol bombs. According to Kantha Rao, the task force personnel found hundreds of ‘smugglers’ felling trees in the forest. Though the police warned them to surrender, the latter began raining stones on them, injuring a few cops.
“They had no option but to open fire. The firing led to a serious encounter as the smugglers tried to attack the police with an intention to kill,’’ he said, adding that the remaining smugglers and labourers fled the scene after watching their colleagues fall. The DIG said the task force teams were deployed at major locations on information from department sources in Tamil Nadu. “Two days back, we had information that smuggling was going on in the forest areas. Acting on it, we deployed teams who traced the smugglers with the help of GPS,’’ Kantha Rao said.
The injured cops were shifted to Sri Venkateswara Ramnarayana Ruia Government Hospital. District collector Siddarth Jain ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.
Naidu Holds high-level Meeting
AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu held a high-level meeting with DGP JV Ramudu and other senior officials at the Secretariat in the wake of the encounter in Seshachalam forest. Later, he briefed Governor ESL Narasimhan. The CM directed Ramudu to handover bodies of the smugglers to their respective families after postmortem.