Andhra police defends killings of 20 woodcutters

Tirupati : Fifteen of the 20 woodcutters killed in an alleged gun battle with police in Andhra Pradesh have been identified while the police have defended their action saying they fired in self-defence.

The bodies of seven of the slain woodcutters, who were working for red sander smugglers, were handed over to their relatives. The killings took place in Chittoor district.

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The bodies were given to their families after an autopsy at the Ruya Hospital in this temple town. Almost all the deceased are from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Police enforced tight security around the hospital as the killings have evoked widespread condemnation from political parties and human rights groups, who termed the encounter as fake.

Some rights activists staged a protest outside the hospital, raising slogans against the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government.

A team of officials from Tamil Nadu reached Tirupati along with seven ambulances to receive the bodies.

The Andhra government officials set up a help desk to provide information to the relatives of the slain woodcutters.

Police said it gunned down the smugglers at two places in Seshachalam forests early Tuesday.

Director General of Police J.V. Ramudu, who reviewed the situation with top officials here, defended the police action, saying they opened fire in self defence.

The police chief said the task force launched combing operations after receiving information that smugglers had entered the forests.

He said the task force personnel had to open as they were attacked by the smugglers.

He said strong measures were inevitable to protect the forest wealth and pointed out that it was for this very purpose that the task force was constituted.

He said the smugglers had attacked forest officials and hacked them to death in the past.

Meanwhile, the police and forest department released images of the smugglers captured on CCTV cameras. The task force launched the combing operations after watching the movement of smugglers

The CCTV cameras were installed in view of the increasing number of smugglers entering the forest and cutting the precious wood.