Chennai, April 7: The killing of at least 20 people, mostly from Tamil Nadu, by the Andhra Pradesh Police on Tuesday is a massacre and the police personnel must be tried for murder, a civil rights activist said.
"It is a massacre. It is planned murder by the Andhra Pradesh Police. They should be tried for murder," S. Balamurugan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), told IANS. [Gunbattle in Tirupati: 20 sandalwood smugglers killed]
According to police, 20 smugglers of red sanders -- a rare wood with huge demand in the international market -- were gunned down on Tuesday in Andhra Pradesh's Chittoor district.
Police opened fire after they came under attack by the smugglers in Seshachalam forest in two places within a radius of one kilometer. [Red sanders encounter: AP govt says no human rights violation]
Balamurugan urged the Tamil Nadu and the Andhra Pradesh governments to take action so that around 100 people remaining in the Andhra forest were protected.
"Landless tribals from Tamil Nadu are lured by smugglers for cutting trees. The labourers are paid around Rs 300. They are not aware about the risks they have to face. The labourers are of the view that cutting trees is a petty crime," Balamurugan said.
According to him, if only Tamil Nadu had enacted a law protecting lands of tribals, they would not go in search of such work.
"Tamil Nadu does not have a law that protects lands of tribals. Tribals in the state are exploited and their lands are being bought by outsiders," he said.
Balamurugan said false cases had been foisted by the Andhra police on the labourers.
"Earlier too several people who had gone to cut trees in Andhra Pradesh have vanished without any trace," he said.
According to him, the labourers were "small pawns" in the smuggling racket.
The gangs and their leaders were never caught because "the gangs have nexus with police, politicians and forest officials".
According to reports, the majority of the people who were shot dead were from Tamil Nadu.