Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a halt to fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels to allow civilians to flee and for political talks to try and end the 25-year conflict.
Ban told reporters the United Nations deplores the increasing casualty toll among civilians trapped in intense fighting between the government and the rebel group in northeastern Sri Lanka. Human Rights Watch said last week that some 2,000 civilians have been killed in recent months and accused both sides of war crimes.
Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils have been fighting for an independent state since 1983. In recent months, the rebels have suffered unprecedented military defeats, losing most of their strongholds to government forces.
"The UN. ... Would strongly support a suspension of fighting for the purpose of allowing safe passage of the civilian population trying to flee the conflict," the secretary-general said.
"There is an urgent need to bring this conflict to an end without any further unnecessary loss of civilian life and destruction of Sri Lankan society," Ban said. "The United Nations renews its call on all sides to pursue serious efforts toward political discussion to achieve an orderly end to the conflict.