South Africa illegal gold miners: Police hunt for killers

Illegal miners pulling out the body of a dead miner from a mine shaft in Benoni, South Africa
Image caption There are often fatalities at abandoned gold mines where there is rivalry between illegal mining gangs

South African police are hunting for the killers of eight illegal gold miners shot dead near Johannesburg over the weekend.

Two of the bodies were discovered underground, the other six were found on the surface of an abandoned mine.

All eight had been shot in the upper body and have not been identified, police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini said.

Correspondents say there is fierce rivalry between competing groups of illegal miners.

The land around the town of Benoni, about 30km (18 miles) east of Johannesburg, is dotted with disused mine shafts that attract men from around the region, including Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with the promise of remaining gold deposits.

The bodies of the miners were discovered by security guards on Saturday and Sunday.

"There are eight bodies which were shot execution style," Paul Ramaloko, of an elite police unit, told the AFP news agency.

Lt-Col Dlamini told the South African Press Association that the motive behind the killings was not known.

The abandoned mine is in the same area where more than 20 illegal miners were rescued in February after being trapped underground for several days.

Those miners, who were reportedly trapped by a rival gang, were arrested after they emerged from the shaft.

According to South Africa's Department of Mineral Resources, a 2008 study of the gold sector found that an estimated $509m (£309m) in revenue was lost a year as a result of illegal mining.

South Africa has some of the world's deepest gold mines and safety is a major issue.

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