Police say they have killed 20 suspected sandalwood smugglers during a fierce gun battle in the southern Indian forests of Andhra Pradesh state.

M. Kantha Rao, deputy inspector general of a special police task force, says the smugglers attacked forest and police officials who had been searching Tuesday for the smugglers near the Hindu pilgrimage town of Tirupati.

He says the police opened fire in self-defense.

Sandalwood smuggling is rampant in southern India, with one ton going for up to $80,000 on the black market thanks to high demand in countries like China and Japan.