India Andhra Pradesh police shootout
Police gun down 20 sandalwood smugglers in southern IndiaWikimedia Commons

Police personnel have gunned down 20 sandalwood smugglers during an armed confrontation in a southern Indian forest.

Gunfire broke out between the smugglers and the police force in the wee hours of 7 April in Andhra Pradesh's Chittor district. Some police officers also suffered injuries during the shootout.

"Twenty red sander smugglers have died at two places. There was an exchange of fire with our task force personnel. They were carrying red sander logs and attacked the police and forest personnel with sickles and fire arms. They also attacked the personnel with stones," senior police official RP Thakur told the PTI news agency.

This is one of the biggest encounters between smugglers and police authorities in recent years. The forest area bordering the southern states contains rich resources including the rare red sanders.

"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. Most of the smugglers are from Tamil Nadu... they regularly come in our area and cut red sanders which is transported in small vehicles to different places," Thakur added.

Poaching of elephants for ivory is prevalent in the region alongside rampant sandalwood smuggling. The smuggling menace was brought down after notorious forest brigand Veerappan, one of the India's most wanted men, was shot down by the police in 2004. Nonetheless, small groups — though not powerful enough to control the entire region — have surfaced to bring back the illegal trade.