Hundreds of civilians fled Sri Lanka's northern war zone Friday as the president promised the United Nations that the military would safeguard noncombatants while it pushed ahead with its offensive to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's assurances came after Sri Lankan forces captured the rebels' biggest sea base, effectively cutting off their main supply point and driving them closer to defeat, and the government rejected calls for a cease-fire that would allow civilians to escape the fighting.
Evidence has grown in recent days of mounting casualties among the estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the shrinking sliver of land still controlled by the rebels. While reports from the sealed war zone were spotty, the top health official there said last week that 300 civilians had been killed, and the UN said at least 52 civilians were killed Tuesday.
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