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Rustenburg - Three men were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for armed robbery, murder and rape, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (known as the Hawks) in North West said on Friday.

Spokesperson Captain Tlangelani Rikhotso said Paul Sello Mashapa, 37, Joseph Vusi Mdluli, 36, and Sphiwe Matlala, 35, were sentenced at the North West High Court sitting in Temba on Wednesday.

"The trio was arrested by the Hawks of North West in November 2006 at Winterveldt, after they hijacked a Toyota Condor in Temba that was transporting two school girls. The suspects drove with the passengers and the driver to a nearby bush where they shot the driver in the stomach and raped the school girls before driving off in the stolen vehicle," she said.

"Information was later received about the whereabouts of the stolen vehicle, upon arrival of the police at the identified location in Winterveldt, the suspects started shooting at the police, one police officer got injured and his state cell phone and firearm were taken by the suspects. The police returned fire and one of the suspects died during the shootout."

"The remaining three suspects were overpowered and eventually apprehended. They were denied bail during the first appearance at the Temba Magistrate Court and remained in custody until they were sentenced."