Police of Japan find three bodies in van in latest suspected group suicide

Japanese police found three bodies inside a parked van in a suspected group suicide, the latest in a surge of people killing themselves in groups, police said Tuesday.

Two men and a woman were found next to burned charcoal in a van parked in a mountainous area in Sumoto, western Japan , according to local police.

The three, who appeared to be in their 20s to 40s, probably died of asphyxia and police suspected suicide, police said.

The van was parked a mere 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away from the site of another group suicide Monday in which two women died and one was seriously injured.

The victims are the latest in a recent surge in group suicides in Japan , including those set up between strangers over the Internet though it wasn't immediately clear how the latest group met.

In March alone, at least 21 people have been found dead in six separate cases of group suicide in Japan , with at least four cases thought to have involved people who made contact on the Web.

Though Internet suicide pacts have occurred since at least the late 1990s in a number of countries, they have been most common in Japan , where the suicide rate is among the industrialized world's highest.

A record 91 people died in 34 Internet-linked suicide cases last year, up from 55 people in 19 cases in 2004, according to latest figures from the National Police Agency. The number of Internet suicide pacts has almost tripled from 2003, when the agency started keeping records.

Still, Internet-related suicides still represent a small percentage of suicides in the country. More than 32,000 Japanese took their own lives in 2004, the bulk of them older Japanese suffering medical or financial woes.

Sumoto is on Awaji island in Japan 's Inland Sea , about 435 kilometers (272 miles) west of Tokyo , reports the AP.

D.M.