December 20, 2005

Exiles say Iran uses tunnels to hide atomic work

LONDON (Reuters) - An Iranian exile group on Tuesday called
on the U.N.'s atomic watchdog to inspect an extensive network
of tunnels which it says the Islamic Republic has built to
conceal a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, which first
made allegations of the tunnels in September, said their
sources in Iran had evidence of underground complexes in 14
locations, near Tehran, Isfahan, Qom and other cities.

"These have been built by military agencies and their front
companies," said Hossein Abedini, a member of the foreign
affairs committee of the NCRI at a news conference.

"The purpose of the tunnels is to conceal parts of the
Tehran regime's atomic and missile programmes," he said, adding
they were used for hiding research centres, workshops, nuclear
equipment and nuclear and missile command and control centres.

He said the NCRI, which has previously reported accurately
about hidden atomic facilities in Iran, had sent the
Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency its latest
information and urged the body to inspect the tunnels.

"Today we call on the International Atomic Energy Agency to
immediately and urgently act," said Abedini.

No one was immediately available at the IAEA to comment.

The NCRI is a coalition of exiled opposition groups that
seeks to overthrow Iran's clerical rulers and is listed by the
United States as a terrorist organization.

The allegations come a day before Britain, France and
Germany meet Iranian officials to discuss the possibility of
restarting negotiations on Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

Almost two years of talks collapsed earlier this year when
Iran said it would restart some sensitive nuclear activity. The
West suspects Iran of developing atomic weapons but Tehran
argues it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Abedini gave more details about the tunnels than previously
available and named companies and engineers involved.

He said a complex of tunnels at Parchin, east of Tehran,
was used for work on laser techniques for uranium enrichment.

Another tunnel system in Khojeer, southeast of Tehran, was
used to assemble ballistic missiles and was 1 km (0.6 miles)
long and 12 metres (yards) wide.

The NCRI believes Iran could develop an atomic bomb in "a
couple of years."