UN urges Sri Lanka to delay final assault until civilians are rescued

The Sri Lankan government has been urged to hold back its final military battle in areas where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped, says United Nations' chief humanitarian emergency coordinator.

The UN's John Holmes recently visited the troubled island nation to gain first-hand information of the humanitarian situation in refugee camps.

The battle between the government and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been raging since January, and the government was planning a final assault in the Vanni region held by the rebels.

While it was clear that tens of thousands of civilians were trapped in the region, there were no exact numbers available. The government put the figure at 70,000 civilians, the UN said 200,000 and the Tamil Tigers claimed 300,000 people were trapped in the fighting.

In addition, thousands of displaced people were living in camps while UN and relief groups tried to gain access for the distribution of food supplies. (DPA)