Two girls, aged 4 and 14, have been rescued after being held in a tiny underground burrow by an alleged serial rapist.

A 31-year-old man arrested near the coastal town of Hermanus in South Africa's Western Cape province Monday claimed the younger girl was his daughter, police said. Police have been unable to verify the claim.

The 14-year-old was abducted from a farm in the area in December 2005 but it is not clear how long the younger girl had been kept underground.

“The girls were kept in an underground room on a river bank in the Hemel-op-Aarde [Afrikaans for heaven on earth] Valley,” a police statement said.

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The man had been on the run for several months and is linked to at least 21 criminal cases arising from a series of rapes, burglaries and thefts in the Hermanus area over the past year.

There is also one earlier charge of abduction against him, details of which were not immediately available.

No charges have yet been leveled against the man in connection with the discovery of the two girls.

“The investigation is at an early stage,” said police spokeswoman Inspector Bernadine Steyn.

The girls were found living in a burrow of about 2 meters by 3 meters dug out of a river bank. Sheets of corrugated iron supported the roof.

The burrow contained a mattress, food and cooking utensils, clothing and a gas stove.

The girls were described by local newspapers as not emaciated, not visibly hurt and “quite clean”, but traumatized.

The man was captured Monday after breaking into a house and being recognized as a wanted suspect. He led police to the two girls.

He is due to appear in court Wednesday.

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