Suspected Sri Lanka arms smuggling trawler sunk in Maldives

COLOMBO, May 17, 2007 (AFP) – A trawler suspected of smuggling weapons, possibly for Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels, has been sunk by the coastguard of the Maldives, the latter’s foreign minister said Thursday. “Five people in the trawler jumped overboard when it was attacked and we are going to question them,” Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahamed Shaheed told AFP by telephone.

“We don’t know whether this is a gunrunning operation for the Tamil Tigers or if they are pirates,” he said, adding that India was asked to help with the operation to sink the boat.

Sri Lankan military officials said they have asked for access to the detained seamen.

“We would like to question the suspects given the reports that they could have been heading towards Sri Lanka,” a military official said.

The Maldives, which lies to the southwest of Sri Lanka, is a cluster of 1,192 coral islands scattered some 850 kilometres (530 miles) across the equator.

The Tamil Tigers rebels rely on small ships and boats to smuggle blackmarket weapons to the northern part of Sri Lanka under their control.
(Updated)