Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight wealthy nations called on both sides in the Sri Lankan conflict on Saturday to take every step to avoid more civilian casualties, saying the fighting should stop.
The ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, meeting in Rome, expressed serious concern about the number of civilian victims of the conflict and the worsening humanitarian situation.
In a statement put out by the Italian foreign ministry they condemned the use of civilians as human shields by the rebel Tamil Tigers, who are pressed into a shrinking area of the country's north by government forces.
Tens of thousands of people are trapped in the small rebel-held zone, and international concern has been mounting over their fate.
"It is time for the conflict to end now," the G8 ministers said, voicing support for all international efforts to achieve this end, as well as the dispatch by the United Nations of a humanitarian mission to the island nation.
The dispatch of Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes on a three-day mission coincided with a White House call for an immediate ceasefire.
The Sri Lankan government has so far resisted all calls to halt an offensive that is now on the brink of wiping out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, who have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1972.
The Tigers, once one of the most feared guerrilla organisations in the world, have seen their territory shrink to a sliver of land on the northeast coast estimated to measure 10 square kilometres (about four square miles).
Sri Lanka's military success has come at a huge cost to civilians, rights groups say, with the UN estimating as many as 6,500 non-combatants may have been killed and another 14,000 wounded in the fighting so far this year.