The Sri Lankan government has agreed to a two-day suspension of offensives against Tamil Tiger rebels to enable tens of thousands of trapped civilians to leave the war zone.
But critics say that the temporary ceasefire is insufficient and could be a tactic in the government's ongoing struggle against the rebels.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has directed the armed forces to restrict operations during the 13-14 April Sri Lankan New Year to a "defensive nature".
He renewed his call to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) to "acknowledge its military defeat and lay down its weapons and surrender." He said they must renounce violence permanently.
The development came amid increasing international pressure on the government to protect civilians trapped along with the remaining guerrillas in a government-declared "no-fire" zone measuring just 7.7 square miles (20 square kilometers).
The UN says around 100,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone with dozens dying every day.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would prefer to see a longer cessation, but the plan was a "useful first step and an opportunity to move towards the peaceful and orderly end to the fighting now so badly needed."
Ban called on both sides to respect the pause in fighting. He said the rebels must allow civilians to move out of the zone, while the government must treat them in accordance with international standards.
"The pause must be long enough for all those who want to leave the conflict zone to do so safely," the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband said in a statement on 12 April. "Temporary relief for civilians must be the first step towards a resolution of the conflict."
He also said it was essential that access is provided for international humanitarian relief efforts and for journalists "given the scale of the alleged abuses on both sides." Independent journalists are barred from the war zone.
Meanwhile, ethnic Tamil expatriates continued to rally in European capitals to protest against the military offensives in Sri Lanka. On 11 April, at least 100,000 marched in London to demand an immediate end to the offensive and the suspension of development aid to Sri Lanka.