By Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's capture of a van packed with explosives by Tamil Tiger rebels gave a glimpse into the intelligence war the government is waging against the remnant operatives of a group finally defeated on the battlefield in May.
The military on Wednesday said a tipoff from a captured rebel led it to recover the van filled with 20 5-kg claymore antipersonnel mines in the northeastern city of Mannar, and arrest three Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) operatives.
"Still there are isolated LTTE cadres operating. They may be getting instructions from overseas operatives and sympathisers," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
LTTE operatives overseas may be keen to carry out a suicide attack to re-energise supporters demoralised since the military won a 25-year war in May and killed nearly all of the LTTE's top ranks including founder-leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran.
"Despite the leadership being gone, they maybe wanted to do some kind of sabotage," Nanayakkara said.
Any suicide or guerrilla attack has the potential to reverse some of Sri Lanka's fast post-war gains, something President Mahinda Rajapaksa's administration wants to avoid.
Tourist arrivals have risen and the Colombo Stock Exchange .CSE is one of Asia's best-performing bourses in 2009, gaining more than 32 percent since the end of the war. High foreign inflows have helped stabilise the rupee LKR=
Tuesday's interception follows a much bigger intelligence coup last week: the capture of new LTTE leader Selvarajah Pathmanathan in a southeast Asian nation that the government has refused to identify.
Better known by his nickname KP, Pathmanathan for decades ran the LTTE's weapons procurement and multimillion dollar fundraising, smuggling and extortion network.
He was the highest-ranking Tiger leader left and his interrogations are expected to yield valuable intelligence to help Sri Lanka catch other LTTE operatives, many of whom are operating from overseas.
Taken together with the massive operation to unearth millions of dollars worth of hidden weapons and explosives caches buried all over northern and eastern Sri Lanka, the two sets of arrests underscore the scale of the post-war intelligence operation.
The military this week even put up wanted posters and public announcements to track down a suspected female suicide bomber in her 20s, believed to be in hiding in Colombo.
Military officials privately say that security in Colombo will not be relaxed until a handful of Tiger suicide bombers believed to be in hiding in the capital are killed or captured. Military checkpoints remain in place despite the end of the war.
The LTTE began as a guerrilla outfit and used sleeper agents to carry out devastating suicide attacks, a tactic it popularised as a weapon of war long before al Qaeda emerged. (Writing by Shihar Aneez and Bryson Hull; Editing by Bill Tarrant)