UN fights Sri Lanka expulsion order

The United Nations is trying to fight an order by the Sri Lankan authorities to expel a senior official representing the world body’s children’s charity who the government has accused of making “unfounded” statements about the war to crush Tamil rebels.

James Elder, a Colombo-based spokesman for Unicef, has been given two weeks to leave the country after the government cancelled his visa. He had initially been told to leave tomorrow but was given a fortnight stay after appeals by the UN.

During the closing stages of the war to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) earlier this year, Mr Elder appeared regularly in the media warning of the “unimaginable hell” facing the hundreds of thousands of civilians caught up in the conflict. The UN estimated that up to 10,000 civilians were killed and thousands more wounded as government troops ended a decades-long civil war.

In April, as troops advanced on the LTTE’s final stronghold where up to 50,000 children were among the trapped civilians, he told The Independent: “Children trapped in this area face immense physical, mental and emotional trauma. The living conditions are dire, with children lacking basic essential such as water, food and medicines.”

Mr Elder last night declined to comment but Sarah Crowe, a regional spokeswoman for Unicef, said officials were protesting the decision. There is a degree of bewilderment, given that his spokesman’s visa had been renewed for a year in July. “This is not about one person, but we stand by the statements that James made,” she said. “[He] has been Unicef’s voice advocating on behalf of those who do not have a voice - children and the most vulnerable.”

Yet the Sri Lankan authorities remain steadfast. Speaking from Colombo, foreign secretary Palitha Kohona, said Mr Elder had made a series of “unfounded statements” that echoed TamilNet, a Tamil news website said to be supportive of the LTTE.  “How can a UN official do this. A UN official should have an absolute commitment to impartiality,” said Mr Kohona. “He was expressing his views in a very unprofessional manner.”

Campaigners say that alongside the military operation to destroy the LTTE and kill its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, the government has fought an equally determined struggle to limit independent reporting of the conflict. Reporters were prevented from getting anywhere near the war zone, except on strictly-escorted visits, and the Red Cross was the only aid agency permitted continued access.

Visits to the vast camps where up to 280,000 civilians remain interned behind razor wire and armed guards, are similarly controlled. Reports in Sri Lanka suggest it was comments that Mr Elder made about conditions in the camps - recently besieged by monsoon floods -  that particularly angered the authorities.

Such was the restrictions placed on independent monitors and the media that many believed the conflict effectively became a war without outside witnesses. Earlier this year, the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said the government had achieved an “almost total blackout of independent and objective reporting” of the war. Last week a Tamil journalist was convicted under anti-terror laws and sentenced to 20 years in jail with hard labour after writing articles critical of the government.

The decision to expel Mr Elder, an Australian passport holder, comes as the Sri Lankan authorities have rejected as “fake” video footage purporting to show the summary execution of Tamil prisoners. In a statement, the foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama said: “[This is] a deliberate and sinister attempt to cause embarrassment and bring disrepute to the government of Sri Lanka. It is indeed deeply regretted that despite the government of Sri Lanka refuting these allegations, some sections of the international community are repeating these allegations which appear to be an orchestrated campaign against Sri Lanka.”

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?