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Page last updated at 18:56 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 19:56 UK

Sri Lanka 'could halt fighting'

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan troops in the north-eastern region, on 10 March 2009
The military is under pressure to call a temporary halt to the fighting

The Sri Lankan government says it is considering a humanitarian pause in the offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in the north-east of the country.

The pause would allow civilians caught up in the fighting time to escape.

A senior foreign ministry official told the BBC that the details for a halt would be worked out shortly.

Earlier, the Sri Lankan military said more than 50 Tamil Tiger guerrillas were killed in land and sea battles in the north-eastern region.

"The government is considering a humanitarian pause and the modalities will be worked out shortly," Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona told the BBC, without elaborating further.

The Sri Lankan government has been under immense pressure from the UN and other international bodies to call a temporary halt in the fighting to allow time for tens of thousands of trapped civilians to escape.

The UN says nearly 3,000 civilians may have been killed and 7,000 others injured in the fighting in the last two months.

Fierce clashes

Earlier, the military said two separate clashes in the north-eastern region had left more than 50 rebels dead.

There has been no reaction from the Tamil Tigers to the claims but pro-rebel websites said the rebels were offering stiff resistance in the area.

Neither version of events could be independently confirmed, as journalists are not allowed to report from inside the conflict zone.

Meanwhile, officials say more than 1,600 civilians fled the war zone and reached government-controlled areas on Monday.

The government says more than 61,000 people have already fled from rebel-held areas and have been housed in special camps in the northern region.

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