Car thieves in shootout with police

Masoka Dube

Police on Tuesday exchanged gunfire with suspected car thieves on the South Africa-Swaziland border near Piet Retief.

Mahamba police spokesman Constable Eric Sibisi said the police received a tip-off about three men who were cutting the border fence.

Sibisi said the three men were apparently intending to smuggle a suspected stolen vehicle into Swaziland.

"The police followed up the information and found three men cutting the fence, and when they noticed the police presence they fired on them," said Sibisi.

He said police returned fire and a shootout lasting about five minutes ensued before the criminals escaped into Swaziland.

"They left the car idling with its door ajar, but no one was apparently injured during the shootout.

"We are investigating cases of attempted murder and theft," added Sibisi.

Police later established that the vehicle, a Ford Laser, had been stolen from Piet Retief and has already been returned to its lawful owner.

Sibisi said the theft and smuggling of vehicles through the borders of the country was a daily headache for the police working on the border posts.

Sibisi said vehicle smugglers from Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique worked as syndicates.