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Police Kill India's Most Notorious Criminal in Gun Battle - 2004-10-19

India's most wanted bandit has been killed in a shootout after the country's longest and most expensive manhunt. The fugitive operated for decades in the jungles of southern India as a sandalwood and ivory smuggler.

The country's notorious outlaw was shot by members of a special force outside the jungles of southern India. Koose Muniswamy Veerapan spent decades using the jungles as a hideout during his long career.

He is accused of killing more than 100 people, kidnapping a movie star and smuggling sandalwood and ivory worth millions of dollars. But he was never convicted of any crimes.

Vijay Kumar led the five-hundred-strong police and paramilitary force hunting Veerapan down. He says the bandit and three associates were killed in a 20-minute gun battle, as they emerged near Dharampuri town in Tamil Nadu. Mr. Kumar says the hunt was not easy.

"It was coming at the end of a long wait, a desperate wait, very hard work over a few weeks and few months," he said.

Government officials hailed the killing of a criminal who had eluded them for nearly 20 years.

The tall bandit in his late 50s was a legend in India. He is said to have slipped into the jungles when he was 18-years-old, taking up with poachers and smugglers.

He came to attention in the 1980's, when he reportedly shot dead a forest officer. Since then, there have been countless stories of his gang ambushing police patrols, killing police and forest officials and stealing their guns.

Veerapan survived in a 6,000 square-kilometer stretch of forest straddling the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. He often got help from the villages that dot the forest. Some called him a modern day Robin Hood, a man who bought the loyalty of poor forest dwellers with generous gifts and money.

Others described him as a bloodthirsty bandit, who used terror tactics to force support, and killed police informers ruthlessly.

Indian media reports say Veerapan often floated the dismembered bodies of his foes down the rivers and streams in southern India.

Veerapan sealed his reputation by telling a magazine editor that he killed a forest officer who had tortured people. Veerapan said he kept the man's head as a souvenir.

Authorities intensified their hunt for him after he kidnapped a movie star in 2000 and a politician in 2002.

Some say age had taken its toll and reduced the bandit's ability to move rapidly around the forests. Others say his support had dwindled. Whatever the truth, Indian authorities breathed a sigh of relief as the country's longest manhunt came to an end.