Japanese envoy to visit Sri Lanka

Twin explosions in a northern town killed two neighborhood guards and wounded 14 others Thursday as officials announced a visit by a Japanese peace envoy aimed at easing tensions that have pushed Sri Lanka to the brink of civil war.

In the first blast in the garrison town of Vavuniya, two guards were killed and two wounded when the group of four guards were cycling home after night duty, the area's senior police officer Jagath Abeysirigunawardena said

A second explosion rocked the city's central district hours later, wounding at least 12 people, including two policemen.

Ten civilians and two police officers were brought to the area's main hospital, said H.M. Jayathilake a local police officer. He said there were more injured being taken to the hospital.

It was not immediately known who was behind the attacks in Vavuniya, which is about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of the capital, Colombo, and is the last government-held town before territory controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Tiger rebels have in the past targeted such neighborhood guards, who are villagers appointed to help police guard their communities.

Recent violence, including two days of government airstrikes against Tamil rebel bases late last month following a suicide attack by a suspected rebel on the army's Colombo headquarters, have pushed a four-year-old cease-fire between the government and Tigers to its limits.

Violence in April alone killed 150 people.

Separately, an air force road clearing team detected a powerful anti-personnel mine hanging on a tree on a route frequented by the armed forces in northeastern Trincomalee, military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said in Colombo.

Trincomalee, 230 kilometers (142 miles) northeast of Colombo has been the scene of several attacks blamed on the rebels. Anti-personnel mines that can be detonated by remote control and are designed to fire hundreds of steel balls, have been the favored weapons of the rebels.

Also Thursday, Japanese officials in Tokyo said that Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi would meet with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and other government officials during his four-day stay starting Saturday, reports the AP.

I.L.