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Civilians urged to leave as ceasefire begins

The Sri Lankan military said only 18 people had taken advantage of a lull in the fighting on the first day of a 48-hour ceasefire in the war against cornered Tamil Tiger rebels.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had ordered the military to restrict operations to a defensive nature for the Sri Lankan new year, which began yesterday. The UN says that more than 100,000 people are trapped along with the guerrillas in a government-declared "no-fire" zone in the north, which measures just 7.7 square miles. But the lull in fighting did not set off an exodus, despite loudspeaker announcements urging civilians to leave. The military said the rebels may be preventing people from fleeing. The government and aid groups have in the past accused the rebels of holding civilians as human shields – an allegation the Tamil Tigers have denied. Also yesterday, the government dropped Norway as a mediator in the 25-year conflict, accusing Oslo of failing to protect its mission there from Tamil protesters.