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UN Says Longer Pause in Fighting Needed in Sri Lanka

The United Nations top humanitarian official welcomed a 48-hour pause in fighting in Sri Lanka's conflict zone, but cautioned that it was insufficient to get in enough aid or to evacuate many of the more than 100,000 civilians trapped by the fighting between the government and Tamil rebels.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes said the government's two-day-long halt in military operations that ended Wednesday was a "valuable first step", but the United Nations would have hoped for a longer pause agreed to by both sides.

"It is clear that 48 hours was not long enough for us to get significant amounts of more aid or indeed to allow visits by humanitarian workers to the area. And unfortunately, it is also clear that not only did it not allow more civilians to get out, there seem to be less civilians getting out during the pause than before," he said.

Holmes told reporters Wednesday it is clear that the Tamil Tiger rebels of the LTTE, who control a 14-square-kilometer strip along the northeastern coast where the civilians are trapped, are not allowing them to leave.

"So it is clear that the LTTE did not allow those who wished to leave, civilians who wished to leave the area during this pause, to do so. They seem to have been actively prevented from doing so during the pause, as they have been before," he said.

The LTTE says the people remaining inside the so-called safety zone are their supporters and are staying voluntarily, a claim the United Nations rejects.

Holmes said U.N. staff members, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other aid agencies have spoken with many people there who have said they are being held against their will and are desperate to get out, and that the "overwhelming majority" want to leave.

There is also fear the Sri Lankan military will begin a final offensive against the rebels, which Holmes warns could result in a "bloodbath."