ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Malagasy villagers killed at least 67 cattle thieves when they attacked a number of villages at the weekend, the gendarmarie of the Indian Ocean island said on Monday.
General Bruno Razafindrakoto said about 100 cattle rustlers simultaneously attacked three villages in the southern region of the world's fourth largest island, prompting villagers to kill the rustlers with spades, spears and machetes.
"We counted 67 dead on the side of the dahalo (cattle thieves). People were acting in self defense to defend their property," he told Reuters.
Razafindrakoto said that incident took place in the Anonsy region, more than 1,000 km south of the capital Antananarivo. A statement issued after a meeting of security officials late on Monday said the rustlers had stolen 180 cows, of which 176 had been recovered.
Separately, security forces clashed with cattle rustlers in the nearby southern district of Betroka on Sunday resulting in the deaths of three security forces and at least eight rustlers, the statement said. The rustlers had stolen about 1,200 cattle, of which some 800 were recovered during the chase.
Razafindrakoto said police reinforcements had been sent to the area.
Cattle rustling has traditionally been common among Madagascar's southern tribes - in some communities it is a rite of passage ahead of marriage.
But it has taken on a criminal dimension as gangs armed with automatic rifles are increasingly involved in the raids.
(Reporting by Alain Iloniaina; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Alison Williams)