Andhra Pradesh police charged with murdering sandalwood smugglers

Preliminary murder and kidnapping charges have been filed, and a case has been lodged against members of the Anti Smuggling Task Force of the police who are accused of using excessive force against suspected red sandalwood smugglers last week in the holy town of Tirupati.

The suspects were from neighbouring Tamil Nadu state and the city of Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu was shut down by protests over the killings.

Police allegedly killed at least 20 suspected smugglers. It is not clear how many police officers were charged with the attack. Two witnesses said the men were pulled off a bus and shot while in custody, but the police insist they were forced to open fire after they were attacked by men with axes and other sharp weapons.

Sandalwood smuggling is rampant throughout the south of India with a ton selling for tens of thousands of dollars on the international black market.  The red sandalwood tree is prized for its rich red wood, mainly used for making furniture. India banned the sale of red sandalwood in 2004.

Reports say the loggers are often tribes people or other poor migrant workers from Tamil Nadu.