Police in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh killed 20 suspected sandalwood smugglers on Tuesday after being attacked with “axes and other sharp-edged weapons,” according to local media reports. The incident reportedly occurred in the Seshachalam forests of the southern Chittoor district during one of the country’s biggest operations to curb smuggling in remote forests.

“Our police party warned them (the smugglers) to hand over the logs. They were accompanied by forest officials as well. But the smugglers refused to hand over the logs,” Kanta Rao, a senior Indian police official, reportedly said. “The teams fired in self-defense. Nine smugglers died at Eetagunta and 11 at Vacchinodu Banda. The search is on for the smugglers who had escaped from the forest after the incident.”

The dead smugglers were identified as natives of the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, according to local media reports. “They are very violent, earlier also they killed forest officials,” J.V. Ramudu, a senior police official, reportedly said.

Eetagunta and Vacchinodu Banda are two remote hamlets in Andhra Pradesh that have forests rich in red sandalwood. 

Red sandalwood is listed among endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This species, also known as “Red Sanders,” is endemic to the forests of Seshachalam and a few pockets located in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Given its rarity, smuggling of red sandalwood is rampant in India and can fetch nearly $100,000 per ton in markets across China where it is smuggled through the bordering country of Nepal.

Over the last year, the Andhra Pradesh government, which has created a task force to combat the smuggling, has seized sandalwood worth over $160 million, according to local media reports.