Illegal miners in stand-off with police

Masoka Dube

Two police officers were injured after they were allegedly shot by illegal miners in Barberton on Thursday.

The officers were shot when they responded to an urgent call by the head of the mine.

This after the head of the mine complained that a group of armed illegal miners suspected of smuggling gold was terrorising them.

Police said 12 officers from the intervention unit were sent to the area to quell the situation.

But when they arrived a confrontation ensued between the police and alleged illegal miners.

Police spokesman Superintendent Abie Khoabane said the illegal miners appeared ready to fight, as though they were aware that the officers were coming.

"The heavily armed group used the legal miners as shields. Therefore, the officers could not shoot as they did not want to hurt legitimate workers.

"When the police tried to make a move, the alleged criminals fired one shot, which hit two officers.

"The officers were hit by a bullet fired from a powerful gun," said Khoabane.

He said one officer was shot in the thigh and the other one in the abdomen. The injured officers were rushed to an unidentified hospital for medical treatment.

Khoabane said an intervention unit had to be called in from Pretoria because the local police were not trained to fight underground battles.

"Local police were forced to vacate the place immediately as two of their colleagues were injured.

"We cannot divulge any information about the injured officers because the suspects have not yet been arrested.

"These people are dangerous and we suspect that they are armed with AK-47s because investigations revealed that the officers were hit by a bullet from such a weapon," said Khoabane.

He said it was not easy to tell the number of the illegal miners "because they were mixed with legitimate workers".