Thousands of civilians were trapped last night as Asia's longest-running civil war neared its endgame amid scenes of "unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe."

Trapped in trenches, with little food and water, up to 50,000 ethnic Tamils are pinned in a tiny pocket of land between the final advance of the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tiger rebels facing imminent defeat.

A government doctor in the area said hundreds of wounded civilians, many of them dying from their injuries, had crowded into a makeshift hospital that he was forced to abandon two days ago because of shelling.

"They are dying without proper treatment," said Thurairajah Varatharajah. "Dead bodies are all lying on the floor. We are unable to bury or clear them. It is a very pathetic situation."

The final push to end the Indian Ocean island’s 26-year civil war comes in defiance of repeated appeals for a ceasefire from most Western governments. About 7,000 civilians have been killed since late January, according to the United Nations, which has called for an independent war crimes inquiry to examine the behaviour of both sides.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation working in the conflict area, said its staff were "witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe."

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