BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - Indian police killed 20 suspected sandalwood smugglers on Tuesday, a state police chief said, during the biggest operation in years to stamp out smuggling in remote forests.
A police task force in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh came under attack by a group of smugglers of the rare, valuable wood, J.V. Ramudu said.
"They are very violent, earlier also they killed forest officials," Ramudu said.
The area where the encounter took place is home to red sandalwood which is highly prized for furniture in China and Japan, police said. Nine smugglers were killed in one place and 11 in a second clash a kilometer (half-a-mile) away.
India's most wanted sandalwood smuggler, Veerappan, was shot dead in a gunbattle in 2004 but since then smaller gangs have sprung up. Most of the wood is smuggled out through northeast India into Myanmar.
(Reporting by Jatin Dash; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)