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UN To Send Humanitarian Assistance to Sri Lanka

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he will send a humanitarian team to northeastern Sri Lanka, where thousands of civilians remain trapped by fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Mr. Ban says the United Nations is very concerned about Sri Lanka's deteriorating humanitarian situation. A UN humanitarian affairs official, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Catherine Bragg, says there are reports of heavy weapons fire, and civilians being used as human shields.

Sri Lankan officials say more than 100,000 civilians have escaped the war zone since the army broke through a barrier in the rebel's last stronghold earlier this week.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said Thursday that up to 20,000 civilians remain along with rebels in an area of less than 13 square kilometers. The government, sensing victory against the Tigers, has rejected international calls for a truce. The rebels say they will not surrender.

The army says it will continue its final assault on the rebels, who are surrounded by troops in the northeast.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ruled out an amnesty for top Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Two senior rebels turned themselves into authorities on Wednesday.

Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for 26 years to create an independent homeland for ethnic Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka. More than 70,000 people have died so far as a result of the conflict.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.