Displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils gather at a transit camp in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. ((UNHCR/Associated Press))

Canada will provide an additional $3 million in humanitarian aid for Sri Lanka, said International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda as she called on the country's military and rebels to commit a ceasefire that will allow civilians to escape the war zone.

"Our concern of course is the present situation with the terrorists, and that we ask all parties to cease fire so that the civilians who are victims can be sought … see that their basic needs — their health and their safety — is what is of uppermost importance to all Canadians," Oda said at a news conference in Colombo.

The situation is "tragic" for civilians and of "grave concern" to Canada, she said.

Oda met with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollangama on Monday to discuss the situation in the north of the country where government troops are continuing to fight Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam insurgents.

Oda said the Sri Lankan government provided her with little information about the status of the minority Tamil civilians who are trapped by the fighting.


Canadian Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda, left, shakes hands with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama at their meeting Monday in Colombo. ((Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press))

Oda said she asked the government to maintain a ceasefire and allow international monitors access to the country's Tamil regions.

The Sri Lankan government officials did not respond to Canada's ceasefire request, she said, but indicated that the volatile areas in the country could open up soon.

British officials also in Sri Lanka

A delegation of five British legislators also arrived on Monday for a two-day visit to meet with officials and aid groups and to visit displacement camps in the north.

Several international officials have visited Sri Lanka over the last week to hold talks with government officials and push for a ceasefire.

"We are strongly urging all parties to immediately cease fire and facilitate access for humanitarian workers to give the urgently needed assistance," Oda said.

The new Canadian International Development Agency funds will be provided to several international aid groups to distribute food, water, shelter and medical care for the tens of thousands of displaced civilians.

Canada has already provided more than $4.5 million in assistance for Sri Lanka through the funding which is put toward programs offered provided by the Red Cross, the World Food Programme and other aid groups.

Canada still wants to see a "meaningful political solution" to the ongoing conflict, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in a written statement.

The rebels have been fighting to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who they say have faced decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the ethnic Sinhalese majority.

The government promised last week to cease using artillery, mortar fire and airstrikes but has vowed to crush the rebel group and end the country's quarter-century civil war.

Shelling continues: reports

Health officials in the region have reported continued shelling, including an attack on a makeshift hospital that killed 64 patients and bystanders Saturday.

The military said on Monday that the rebels are continuing to push deeper into a rebel-held 4.5-kilometre coastal strip of land, where there are growing concerns about the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone.

A rebel-linked aid group is providing some food, but the situation is growing desperate and there are reports of some people killing others to steal supplies.

Aid groups also accuse the rebels of holding an estimated 50,000 civilians stuck in the region as human shields. The rebels have denied the accusation.

Another 200,000 civilians who already fled the fighting have overwhelmed displacement camps in the north.

"Troops are moving slowly into the area from the west, the north and the south," military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Navy gunboats also fired scores of shells along the coast Monday morning as desperately hungry families crowded the shore to buy fish from returning fishermen, said Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah, the top government health official in the war zone, said by telephone as a blast echoed in the distance.

Many in the area are struggling for food, and several elderly people are dying every day from starvation, he said.

The military has repeatedly denied shelling the area, saying troops are using only small arms in the battle.

It is not possible to verify the claims because the government has barred independent journalists from the war zone, arguing that it is too dangerous for them to work.

With files from The Associated Press