A “survivor” of the Chittoor encounter in Andhra Pradesh has claimed that seven out of the 20 slain loggers were pulled out of a bus a day before they were shot dead, a rights group said on Wednesday.
The claim, if proved true, would deal a big blow to Andhra Pradesh police who have dismissed allegations of staging the encounter and struck to its version that security personnel were forced to open fire when a 100-strong group of red sanders smugglers attacked them.
The killings have soured the state’s relations with neighbouring Tamil Nadu which have described the incident as a “massacre of poor woodcutters”
An underfire Andhra chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who had deployed a special task force to crack down on red sandalwood smugglers last year, on Wednesday order a magisterial probe into the incident.
Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee member Kranthi Chaitanya, in the forefront of a demand for a judicial enquiry into the encounter, said the organisation has “managed to establish contact with the survivor through relatives of the deceased who have come here (Chittoor) from Tamil Nadu.
“He is being kept at a safe place. We will produce him before the National Human Rights Commission,” he added.
The NHRC has already taken suo moto cognizance of the incident and asked for reports from the Andhra Pradesh chief secretary and police chief.
NHRC has already taken suo moto cognizance of the incident and asked for reports from the Andhra Pradesh chief secretary and police chief. (Kashif Masood/HT Photo)
Family-members of a few of the slain "smugglers" who arrived at the government mortuary in Chittoor also said that the "survivor" was among of 8 woodcutters hired by red sanders smugglers in Andhra.
The identity of the "survivor", said to be from Arjuna Puram village in Thiruvanamalai district of Tamil Nadu, was not given.
They quoted him as saying that seven of his group were taken away from bus on Monday by police during a search at Nagari on the inter-state border.
"They were traveling in a bus from Thiruvanamalai to Chittoor on Monday afternoon. The bus was stopped by police and seven of the eight men were arrested. He was sitting separately and managed to slip away quietly," said Raja Babu (38), a relative of one of those killed in the encounter.
Family members of a few of the slain suspected sandalwood smugglers arrived to claim the bodies at the government mortuary in Chittoor in Andra pradesh. (Kashif Masood/HT Photo)
The survivor is said to have returned to village on Tuesday morning, around the time news of the encounter broke on TV.
Political parties and rights groups have picked holes in the Andhra police’s claims, pointing out discrepancies in the encounter theory.
Media reports said that several of the slain had bullet holes in the face and head, suggesting they were shot from close range.
The reports also said rights group Amnesty International has also called for a fair probe into the incident.
Meanwhile, protests continued in Tamil Nadu with incidents of stone-pelting on buses originating in Andhra.
Police said four persons have been arrested over the attacks on buses. Several outfits organised protests in some parts of Tamil Nadu condemning the incident.
Read: Red sanders smugglers' killings: 2 encounters, 20 bodies, several unanswered questions
(With inputs from agencies)