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France proposes Sri Lanka relief operation with Britain

As fighting between Sri Lanka's government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels escalates, France has proposed a joint relief operation with Britain. The UN security council has called on the Tamil Tigers to stop fighting.

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil civilians evacuated from the war zone wait at a transit camp for registration

Thousands have fled the fighting, thousands more are still trapped

"We will try to launch an operation," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said during a radio interview on Wednesday, adding that he would discuss the plan with his British counterpart, David Miliband.

The situation was also discussed at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wedneday. In a nonbinding statement, the council demanded that Tamil Tiger fighters stop using civilians as human shields, lay down their arms, renounce terrorism and join political talks to end the nation's 25-year civil war.

According to authorities in Sri Lanka, some 60,000 men, women and children had managed to flee the war zone over the previous two days as the government pressed on with its offensive against the rebels.

But France's ambassador to the UN, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said there are thousands more who are still trapped in the narrowing region where the fighting is taking place.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1972. In recent days, they've lost ground to Sri Lankan government troops. For its part, the government says it is carrying out a final offensive against the Tigers that could end Asia's longest-running war.

Ripert told reporters that the Tigers "have to stop fighting, they have to surrender, they have to join the political process and, of course, they have to free the hostages."

Britain sending minister to assess situation

Britain has said it will send a minister to visit Sri Lanka this week to assess the extent of humanitarian assistance available.

Tamils protesting in London in front of the Houses of Parliament

Tamil protesters have been gathering in London, urging Britain to pressure Sri Lanka into halting its military assault on Tamil areas

"We will press on the government the need for humanitarian help, but we will also press the need for a ceasefire and the need for a political solution to these problems," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On Tuesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned the situation was "catastrophic" for the 50,000 or more civilians trapped between the warring factions with little food, water or medicine.

The United States has been critical of both the government and the Tigers. In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation a "terrible human tragedy."

"I think the Sri Lankan government knows that the entire world is very disappointed that, in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering," Clinton said.

But she also said that the Tigers have shown "very little openness...to cease their efforts so that we could try to get in and help the people."

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