The task force and forest personnel, during a joint combing operation, spotted over 200 red sander woodcutters involved in felling trees and they were asked to surrender.

"However, the smugglers, armed with sickles, axes, swords, country-made weapons and stones, attacked the police and forest personnel injuring six policemen," Deputy Inspector General of Police (Special Task Force) M Kantha Rao said.

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In retaliation, when the police fired in self-defence, 20 of the smugglers were killed and many others fled the scene, he said.

A massive hunt is on at different check posts to nab the absconding smugglers, he said.

On the directions of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, an aerial survey is also being undertaken in the forest area.

"They (red sander smuggler) have a history of attacking forest personnel and policemen. Two forest officials were stoned to death by red sander cutters in Seshachalam forest in December 2013," Rao said.

Tuesday's incident took place at two places in Seshachalam forest area of Chandragiri mandal in Chittoor between 5 AM and 6 AM.

"Twenty red sander smugglers have died at two places. There was an exchange of fire with our task force personnel. They (smugglers) were carrying red sander logs and attacked the police and forest personnel with sickles and fire arms. They also attacked the personnel with stones," Additional DGP (Law and Order) R P Thakur said.
After the police personnel came under attack, they retaliated, he said.

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"The smugglers, once challenged by the police, tried to overpower the security personnel and carry away the logs. In the process, they attacked the policemen," Thakur said.     

The state 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.

Red sanders, or red sandalwood, grows mainly in Seshachalam hill ranges spread across Kadapa, Chittoor and Kurnool in Rayalaseema region and parts of Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh.

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