30 Jan 2009

Safe passage pledged for Sri Lankan civilians

11:25 am on 30 January 2009

President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has pledged safe passage for thousands of people trapped by fighting with Tamil Tiger rebels.

The president on Thursday challenged the rebels to let people leave the war zone, a 300 square km section of jungle.

The military said it would not cease combat operations or declare a ceasefire, but would stop shooting to allow civilians to get out as it did for a convoy on Thursday.

Aid agencies say about 250,000 civilians are caught there and at serious risk.

A convoy has brought 226 people out of the war zone after days of negotiations, while another ferried in 170 tonnes of food.