Underwater Tamil hideout discovered

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The Independent Online

The Sri Lankan military says it has found a large metal structure that may have been intended to be used as an underwater home or hiding-place by the leadership of the Tamil rebels.

Officials said the 360ft long and 25ft wide structure, apparently split into three sections, had been found on iron rails. In the seabed near by, a 300ft long canal had been dug, up to 30ft deep. Work was still being done on the structure by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the town of Irattavaikkal when encroaching government troops forced them to leave.

"It's not a vessel, it's only a structure, but someone could move inside there," said a military spokesman, Brig Udaya Nanayakkara. "We believe they may have intended to make use of this underwater." The potential hiding place is just one of many pieces of LTTE hardware and equipment that have been found in recent weeks as the rebels and their leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, have been squeezed into an ever- diminishing patch of land. Last month, the military claimed to have discovered several basic submarines that were being constructed by the rebels, possibly to be used to escape.

The military yesterday said it continued its advance into the coastal strip where between 500 and 1,000 fighters remain dug in, along with thousands of trapped civilians. The government has vowed to stop using heavy weapons out of concern for these civilians but a government health official in the war zone said the area came under intense shelling again on Thursday evening.

And the Sri Lankan authorities will also soon have to decide whether it will allow a merchant ship carrying 3,000 tonnes of aid to dock in the north-eastern, Vanni area. Funded by prominent Tamils in Europe and supported by the British rapper M.I.A, whose father was a prominent Tamil activist, the Vanni Mission left Egypt yesterday and is expected to near Sri Lanka in two weeks. It is unlikely that Colombo will allow the ship to enter Sri Lankan territorial waters but activists hope the mission will continue to publicise the ongoing conflict, and the need for aid.