Page last updated at 16:21 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 17:21 UK

'Safe passage' offer in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan troops parade at a passing out ceremony near Colombo
Civilians have fled as government troops have attacked the Tamil Tigers

Civilians displaced by fighting in northern Sri Lanka have been urged to leave Tamil Tiger areas by the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

There are 134,000 displaced people in the northern Kilinochchi district alone, according to aid agencies.

Concerns have grown over the safety of civilians caught up in government offensives against the Tigers.

Mr Rajapaksa says safe passage will be opened to move displaced civilians into government territory.

In the last three months tens of thousands of people have fled their homes ahead of a military advance to crush the rebels and end their fight for a separate state for the Tamil minority.

Many have gathered in the areas around Kilinochchi town - the rebels' administrative headquarters and a key strategic target if the Sri Lankan military is to win the civil war.

Sri Lanka's government has accused the Tigers of using the civilians as human shields.

'Safe area'

The Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa - who is also the President's brother - said leaflets would be dropped urging people to move.

BBC map

He said the displaced people would try to force their way out of Tamil Tiger territory.

"That's what we are expecting (and) we are planning to give passage, a safe area for them to come out of that."

Up to now relatively few of those displaced by the fighting in the north have crossed into government-controlled areas.

The human rights group, Amnesty International, has accused the government of putting those who have fled into temporary shelters it describes as 'de facto detention centres'.

And in a statement the Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Rev Duleep Chickera, said innocent civilians were trapped in the "intense crossfire of deadly armed confrontation" under pressure from both sides and fearing reprisals.

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