Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels appealed to the International Red Cross to arrange a safe haven for thousands of civilians trapped by fighting in the island's restive east, the rebels said on Friday.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) made the request during talks with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the rebel-held Kilinochchi town on Thursday, the rebels said in a statement.
"The blocking of essential food and medicine to several parts of the Tamil homeland and the targeting of the civilian population by artillery fire and aerial bombardments were discussed in detail," the statement said.
The rebels also accused the military of arresting civilians fleeing the embattled Vakarai area, in the district of Batticaloa, where troops and Tigers have exchanged artillery fire in recent weeks.
"Latest reports indicate that the Sri Lankan military has arrested Tamil civilians from Vakarai who have trekked through jungles and in rain to flee Sri Lankan military artillery fire into Vakarai," the statement said.
It came a day after the Sri Lankan military said it arrested 15 Tamil Tiger rebels who pretended to be civilians fleeing the eastern region ahead of a major military offensive.
The men were detained while the security forces were screening some 22,000 civilians who fled to Vakarai, the military said.
Heavy monsoon rains were preventing more people from quitting the area ahead of possible fresh fighting, a military official here said.
Sri Lanka's army chief Sarath Fonseka last week declared that troops would flush out members of the LTTE from the eastern province.
Military officials in the province said any action could begin with an onslaught against Tigers in Vakarai, one of the key population centres of the coastal district.
The United Nations and international truce monitors have voiced grave concern for civilians caught in crossfire between troops and the rebels at Vakarai.
The LTTE is fighting for independence for the island's minority 2.5 million Tamil community. The conflict has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.