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Asia Crisis

UN's Ban urges suspension of Sri Lanka fighting

(Adds quotes, background)

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Monday for a "suspension in fighting" between the Sri Lanka government and Tamil Tiger separatists to allow civilians to escape.

"There is an urgent need to bring this conflict to an end without any further unnecessary loss of civilian life and destruction of Sri Lankan society," Ban told reporters.

In recent weeks, Sri Lanka's government has made major advances against the rebels, has cornered them in a small area of the island and expects to end one of Asia's longest-running wars shortly.

"The U.N. deplores the increasing casualties among civilians trapped in the intense fighting ... and would strongly support a suspension in fighting for the purpose of allowing safe passage of (the) civilian population trying to flee the conflict," Ban said.

The U.N. chief did not use the word ceasefire but his comments appeared to go further than previous U.N. statements urging the combatants to protect civilians.

The rebels, who say more than 2,000 civilians have been killed, said on Monday they were willing to accept a ceasefire but rejected calls to lay down their arms and surrender.

Ban said the United Nations was renewing its call on all sides to work for a "political discussion to achieve an orderly end to the conflict."

Reporting by Patrick Worsnip, Editing by Sandra Maler

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