Five killed in shootout with police on farm

POLICE appear to have broken the back of a 23-member gang of murderers and armed robbers by killing five on a farm in Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal, on Sunday night, after arresting 12 others last week

A sixth member of the gang, who was wounded in the leg, was arrested when he crawled out of the bush close to a security guard, while another was later shot and killed in a shootout with guards of a private security company.

The drama on Sunday unfolded when members of the police's national intervention unit lay in wait for the gang on the farm in the Eston area outside Pietermaritzburg, after receiving a tip-off about a planned farm robbery.

National police spokesperson Colonel Vish Naidoo said police confronted the group when they tried to force open the main farm gate at about 10pm, calling for them to surrender. The men refused.

"Instead, a shootout ensued between police and the suspects, which resulted in five suspects being shot dead and two escaping.

"One of the two (escaped) suspects was later arrested," Naidoo said.

Police recovered seven firearms from the dead suspects, one of which was a police-issued pistol.

"The firearms will be sent to the forensics science laboratory for ballistics testing to establish whether they were used to commit other crimes," said Naidoo.

He said the gang apparently operated as a 23-member group, which has been linked to 25 cases of murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and car hijackings in the area.

The 12 arrested last week in Mariannhill were wanted for various cases including murder, attempted murder and armed robbery.

They are also linked to the killing of a businessman in Hammersdale two weeks ago.

National police chief General Bheki Cele said he was "elated" that his officers came away unharmed.

"These suspects chose to open fire on police officers rather than to surrender, and by raising and firing on our police five of the gang of thugs were fatally wounded.

"I am elated that my officers emerged unscathed.

"I should imagine that this incident would serve as a further reminder that our police officers will not take kindly to being shot at," the policecommissioner said.

Cele said the officers' actions proved that the police were prepared to protect South Africans.