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World

Sri Lankan president calls 48-hour truce

Colombo responds to UN calls for a truce amid fears that thousands of civilians could be killed or wounded in the Sri Lankan military offensive.

Sri Lanka Army troops stand watch as a UN World Food Program transport drives by in Mullaitivu district, 384 km north of Colombo

Sri Lanka Army troops stand watch as an UN World Food Program distributes aid

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered the army not to attack Tamil Tigers rebels during a two-day holiday to let thousands of civilians escape a no-fire zone.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed Rajapaksa's move, and called on the Tamil Tigers to let civilians choose whether to stay or leave.

Witnesses have previously reported that rebels have shot people trying to flee. The United Nations estimates that 100,000 civilians are trapped in the 17-square-kilometre zone, which is the last remaining territory held by the rebels.

Sri Lanka's government says it is in the final stages of defeating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who launched a campaign to create a separate Tamil homeland in 1972.

The Tigers have vowed not to give up their fight for a separate nation for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. The civil war has killed at least 70,000 people since 1983.