Families who had fled from the northeastern town of Mutur returned a fortnight ago from refugee camps, after fighting between the army and Tamil Tigers ravaged the city, aid workers have said.

About 1,500 families left Mutur for nearby Kinniya on Saturday and more than 1,000 families were stranded at a jetty on Sunday after the government suspended ferry service to the northeastern port of Trincomalee, one local aid worker said while fleeing in a vessel.

"The military and the government are not allowing them [families] to move [escape]," he said. "They have stopped the ferry and also by [blocked] the land route they are stopping them and don't allow them to go on."

Warning

The attempted exodus comes after a previously unknown suspected rebel front called Tamileela Thayaga Meedpu Padai, distributed leaflets in the town warning residents to leave immediately.

"The final preparations have begun to recapture Mutur," the leaflet said. "Do not remain in Mutur, you will only face destruction."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were not immediately available for comment, but demand that the government must give back the nearby town of Sampur, which the army had captured.

The town sits on the southern lip of the strategic harbour of Trincomalee.

Tens of thousands of people displaced by fierce fighting in and around Mutur had spent weeks camped out in emergency shelters in schools in the eastern town of Kantale, but government officials said they were under pressure to return life to normal for the town's regular habitants.

The fighting has displaced tens of
thousands of people

"The security forces are giving protection to the civilians in Mutur, so there is no need for them to go because of this LTTE threat," said a military spokesman.

"They are telling people not to leave, because security is provided by the security forces," he said.

The Tigers and the government have both told peace negotiator Norway that they are prepared to meet for talks after a five-month deadlock to end a new chapter of civil war that has killed hundreds of civilians, troops and rebels since late July.

However, analysts and diplomats are uncertain that the talks will actually happen, and fear the fighting will erupt again unless the two sides address the core issues of human rights abuses by both sides and the rebels' central demand for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east.