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A plea for Sri Lankan civilians

February 28, 2009|Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The chief of U.N. humanitarian efforts urged Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels Friday to let tens of thousands of civilians leave the South Asian country's war zone, saying there were "credible reports" that some people trying to flee had been shot.

John Holmes also called on the Sri Lankan government to allow civilians to leave safely, either by agreeing to a temporary cease-fire or allowing a humanitarian corridor for safe passage through the front lines in the island's northeast.

Steps are also needed "to ensure a peaceful, orderly and humane end to the fighting," he said. "The risk of a very bloody end to this long-running conflict is otherwise unacceptably high."

Holmes briefed the U.N. Security Council on his visit to Sri Lanka on a day when government troops drove deeper into the Tamil Tigers' shrinking stronghold, confining the rebels to an area smaller than Manhattan. The government has said it is on the verge of destroying the rebels and ending the Indian Ocean nation's quarter-century civil war.

Estimates of the number of civilians trapped vary from 70,000, according to the government, through about 200,000, according to the U.N., Holmes said. "Food, medical supplies, clean water, sanitation facilities and shelter are now extremely short."

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