South Africa police accused in murders

June 22, 2012 - 2:37 PM

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Eighteen South African police officers have been arrested on charges of murder, assault and possession of ammunition, an official said.

A spokesman for prosecutors, Mthunzi Mhaga, said that during a court appearance on Friday in the eastern port city of Durban, the officers were freed on 5,000 rand (less than $600) bail each.

The arrests earlier this week followed an investigation that began in January 2012 after allegations of a police "death squad" operating in the Durban area appeared in the Sunday Times, a Johannesburg newspaper.

In 2011, the newspaper alleged that the unit had committed "scores of assassinations, some in retaliation for suspected cop killing and others related to ongoing taxi wars."

Using witness testimony, death scene photographs and expert ballistic reports, the newspaper linked the unit the police officers worked for to many suspicious deaths.

Police spokesman McIntosh Polela said police officers of various ranks were arrested, and that authorities seized counterfeit cash, ammunition and crime scene photos during the arrests.

The accused officers are to report weekly to their nearest police station. They are due back in court Aug. 23.

Polela says that more arrests are likely.

South Africa has a high rate of violent crime and some citizens, in calls to radio talk shows and letters to newspaper editors, have praised members of the alleged death squad for cracking down on criminals.