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Hundreds more flee as Sri Lanka war races to end

More than 2,200 people have fled Sri Lanka's war zone in the last two days as the military vowed a rapid finish to the 25-year-old war.

world Updated: Feb 06, 2009 12:35 IST

More than 2,200 people have fled Sri Lanka's war zone in the last two days as the military on Friday vowed a rapid finish to the 25-year-old war.

Fighting is concentrated around a shrinking circle of jungle in the Indian Ocean island's northeast, where the military said it has all but surrounded the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists.

Trapped inside the 175 sq km (about 67 sq mile) battlefield are tens of thousands of civilians, whom aid agencies, the government and a growing list of nations have said are being held in the war zone by the Tigers, under grave threat of harm from the fighting.

But they have started to come out in the past three weeks.

"Today, 600 people have come up until now," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. On Thursday, 1,637 escaped the fighting, he said.

Late on Thursday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the military operation would proceed while ensuring civilians are kept safe, the president's office said in a statement.

The Tigers, once widely regarded as one of the world's most ruthlessly effective guerrilla organisation, are now nearing defeat, analysts say. Rajapaksa this week said the ground war could be over in days.

Asked how long it would take to finish the war, Nanayakkara said, "We are going to do it as fast as possible. Let the civilians come out and then we will show how fast will do it."

Sri Lanka has said it will allow civilians safe passage, but has flatly refused calls for a ceasefire for negotiations.

The United States, Britain, the European Union and others have urged the Tigers to surrender, and for both sides to stop firing temporarily to allow civilians out and aid in.

The LTTE could not be reached for comment. The pro-rebel web site www.TamilNet.com on Friday said the military had shelled a no-fire zone the army demarcated late last month and killed 16 people.

The military accuses the LTTE of placing its artillery inside no-fire zones.

The United Nations on Wednesday said 52 people had been killed from shelling but it did not say who was responsible.