Antananarivo - Nine people were killed as police and gendarmes intervened after a gang of armed cattle thieves seized 1 000 cattle in southern Madagascar, the gendarmerie said on Sunday.

Six rustlers, two gendarmes and a police officer died in the fighting, after around 130 armed men seized the zebu, a local breed of cattle.

The police received a report of a theft of 1 000 zebus in Ihaborano in the southern part of the Indian Ocean island, according to the gendarmerie report.

The clashes “resulted in three deaths on the side of the units maintaining law and order and six on the side of the bandits”, it added.

Police managed to recover around 600 head of cattle.

The theft of zebu, traditionally a way for youths to prove their manhood and win the favour of their prospective in-laws, has turned into a booming criminal trade in the isolated south of Madagascar.

Several dozen people have died in clashes between security forces and cattle raiders armed with AK-47s in what is one of the world's poorest countries. - Sapa-AFP