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Police in the South African coastal city of Port Elizabeth said they arrested two suspected thieves found inside a cash machine on Monday.

The pair were discovered in a compartment behind the screen of the machine at a township petrol station in the early hours of the morning.

Police believe they entered the unit in an attempt to steal cash.

Large, robust stand-alone cash machines are common in South Africa following an epidemic of ATM bombings in the early 2000’s.

“It was about 3.51am when police went to investigate after an alarm was triggered,” Captain Andre Beetge said.

After a brief search officers “were about to leave, when they noticed movement inside the ATM,” said Beetge.

“Upon careful investigation, they found two men, aged 18 and 20 inside.”

The pair were arrested and charged with malicious damage to property, further charges are expected when the men appear in court on Tuesday.

It is believed the suspects used screw drivers and other instruments to force open the ATM, which was built into a larger vault.

No explosives were used and no money was removed.

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