Japanese Envoy to Visit Sri Lanka Rebels in Attempt to Avert Civil War

Security forces clamped down on Sri Lanka's Tamil-dominated Jaffna Peninsula on Monday to guard against anti-government demonstrations and a Japanese envoy said he would travel to a nearby area to try to meet rebels and avert a civil war.

Envoy Yasushi Akashi met with President Mahinda Rajapakse in Colombo and said he intended to go Tuesday to Kilinochchi, the Tamil Tigers' de-facto capital about 40 miles south of Jaffna, even though he had yet to secure a meeting with the rebels' leader.

Security forces, meanwhile, imposed a curfew on Jaffna and closed off the main highway linking the peninsula to the rest of the island to guard against anti-government demonstrations.

Renewed fighting between the rebels and government forces in recent weeks has threatened to re-ignite a civil war that cost 65,000 lives before a cease-fire brought a brief respite to the bloodshed in 2002.

Japan is Sri Lanka's largest aid donor and has taken an interest in building peace on the island nation, where more than 150 people have died in violence since April.

Akashi and Rajapakse discussed ways to get the rebels back to peace talks in Geneva, a senior official in Rajapakse's government said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The insurgents last month refused to participate in further talks.

Akashi told reporters after the meeting that he had learned through newspaper reports that top Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran was not interested in speaking with him. But he said he would go to Kilinochchi anyway "to find out whom I can meet."

In the latest violence, the rebels accuse the military of involvement in the reported disappearance of eight Tamil men after they were shot in a Hindu temple in Jaffna over the weekend, a charge the army denies.

The Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam said the men, who were sleeping in the temple, had disappeared and that blood stains in the temple suggested they had either been killed or wounded before being taken away.

Police imposed the curfew after pro-rebel groups said they would hold demonstrations against the latest round of killings and alleged abductions. However, the curfew does not apply in rebel-held territory such as Kilinochchi, where the rebels usually meet foreign dignitaries.

The rebels are demanding a homeland for the Tamil minority, claiming discrimination by the ethnic Sinhalese majority. The current government won an election last year with a pledge to maintain a single state.