Indian police kill 20 suspected sandalwood smugglers - CVIEW NEWS

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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Indian police kill 20 suspected sandalwood smugglers

Police in southern India have shot dead at least 20 alleged smugglers of sandalwood in “self-defence” after being attacked with axes, arrows, sticks and stones.
The clash took place early on Tuesday morning in the Seshachalam forest, on the outskirts of the temple town of Tirupati, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, according to UK's Guardian.


The scene at Seshachalam forest in Andhra Pradesh after 20 people were killed when police opened fire on loggers

Smuggling sandalwood has long been a lucrative business in the area, though those actually cutting trees and moving the wood are usually extremely poor locals hired by gang leaders. Most are paid between 150 and 300 rupees (£1.60 to £3.20) for a day’s work.
The red sandalwood that grows locally is on international lists of endangered wild flora and fauna and its export from India is illegal. Admired for its deep red colour and hardness, the valuable wood from the Eastern Ghat mountain range is used for artefacts and furniture in China and a kilo can be worth as much as £100, officials say.
The shootings occurred when police officers acting on a tipoff challenged a large group of labourers in the remote forest area.
M Kantha Rao, the state’s deputy inspector general of police and head of a local anti-smuggling task force, said his officers had opened fire in self-defence.
“As soon as they saw police, at least 150 to 200 labourers hired by the smugglers rained stones, shot arrows and threw sticks and iron rods. They hid behind boulders and attacked … and the task force opened fire in self-defence and at least 20 were killed,” said Rao.
A local forestry department official confirmed the loggers had attacked police with axes, sticks and stones in two separate areas of the forest.
“The [labourers] are all hired daily wagers. They were camping here since yesterday evening, we believe,” said Rao. Police “found nine bodies in one position, and 11 bodies in another”, he added.
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Six officers were wounded in the clash. Operations are under way to locate and detain the scores of labourers who fled.
Many of the workers appear to have come from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Politicians there have called for a judicial investigation of the killings.
Rights activists in Andhra Pradesh said there had been frequent clashes between police and loggers in the area. VS Krishna, the general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Forum, said an earlier attack described by police as a gun battle had turned out to be “one-sided firing” by police.
S Balamurugan, of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, told the local IANS news agency that the killings were a massacre. “They are not aware of the risks. The labourers think that cutting trees is a petty crime,” he said.
In 2013, two unarmed forest officers were killed by smugglers close to where Tuesday’s clash took place.
After a crackdown on major ports, smugglers are increasingly trying more remote border crossings such as those between Nepal and India, using Burma to reach China or sending shipments by air.
Customs officials seized a huge haul of more than 3,000kg of the wood at Delhi airport in April last year. The consignment was destined for Hong Kong. Some wood has also been seized in Bhutan, the remote Himalayan mountain kingdom.
Several species of sandalwood growing in India are prized for their medicinal properties in neighbouring China or for use in religious rituals elsewhere in Asia. Trees of these species are also frequently illegally felled and smuggled.
Arrests are common but rarely result in convictions. Last year, five men, including a Chinese and a Taiwanese national, were arrested in Tamil Nadu. Police believed they were smuggling sandalwood from Andhra Pradesh. Three sacks containing around £5,000 worth of the wood were found in one of their homes.


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