April 18, 2009 / 10:08 PM / 9 years ago

Britain sends envoy to U.N. over Sri Lanka

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said Saturday it was gravely concerned about fighting between government forces and Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka and had sent an envoy to the United Nations for urgent talks.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa (in white) greets troops in the northern Sri Lankan town of Kilinochchi April 16, 2009 during a one-day visit to the Sri Lankan defence force base in the war-torn north of the country. Sri Lanka's two-day humanitarian truce ended on Wednesday and the military announced it was now free to begin a final assault to end the 25-year war against the rebel Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan military says only 1,000 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels remain, and accuse the fighters of holding around 100,000 civilians as human shields. REUTERS/Sri Lankan Government/Handout

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the conflict in northern Sri Lanka threatened many thousands of civilian lives and repeated his call for an immediate cease-fire to allow civilians to leave the conflict area.

“The U.N. are making progress with the government of Sri Lanka towards an agreement to get support to civilians in the conflict zone and on efforts to get agreement from the LTTE to allow civilians to leave,” Miliband said in a statement.

“The prime minister’s special representative, Des Browne, is travelling to New York to consult urgently with the U.N..”

Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Hundreds of Tamil Tiger supporters demonstrated outside Britain’s parliament this month calling for London’s help in securing a cease-fire between Sri Lankan forces and Tiger separatists.

The United Nations says tens of thousands of people are being held as human shields by the LTTE, and has urged the Sri Lankan military to protect them during a final offensive.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by Robert Woodward

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