As controversy rages over the deaths of 20 alleged sandalwood smugglers in Andhra Pradesh, a man from neighbouring Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri district has alleged that seven of those killed were arrested by the Andhra Pradesh police while they were on their way to Tirupati. His father, who he claims was also travelling with the group, was also killed in the shootout on Tuesday in the forests of Chittoor.
The man alleges that he missed the bus - which the seven men were travelling in - at Kannamangalam on Monday when he went to buy liquor. He then boarded another bus. While on his way, he claims that he called Sivakumar - one of the seven men in the other bus - who told him that they had been taken into custody at the Nagari police station. He alleges that a policeman answered Sivakumar's phone when he called again and said, "It's only a minor enquiry". Repeated calls on that number later went unanswered, he alleges.
The allegations follows a similar account offered by the headman of a village in Tamil Nadu who said some of the victims were headed to Tirupati in search of jobs when they were pulled off the bus by policemen from Andhra Pradesh.
The shooting of the 20 men has provoked furious protests from human rights activists and a demand from Tamil Nadu for an independent inquiry. The Centre, too, has sought a report from the Andhra Pradesh government over the incident.
A police task force said that early on Tuesday morning, it was attacked with knives and axes in the Chittoor forests in the biggest operation in recent years to catch illegal sandalwood traders. Top officers have so far not divulged how many policemen and forest officials were involved in the encounter. Activists allege that the fact that none were injured suggests that the police was not ambushed.