Eleven bodies were discovered on Tuesday in the forests of southwestern Madagascar where security forces battled hundreds of armed cattle rustlers, the military said.

“Civilians said they found 11 bodies. We are waiting for them to be identified to confirm if they are those of the murdered or missing military,” Defence Minister Andre Lucien Rakotoarimasy told AFP.

Six policemen had already been shot dead and five others reported missing after a shoot-out between police and zebu (humped ox) rustlers on June 9.

Theft of humped cattle - a prized breed in parts of southern Madagascar - has surged and grown more violent in recent years.

On June 9, the government suspended zebu exports to put the squeeze on rustlers, who are believed to enjoy support from corrupt officials to sell their livestock in the capital. - Sapa-AFP