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.”

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
music
News
i100
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

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes