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Sri Lanka ‘reviewing’ expulsion of UN official

[AFP, Monday, 7 September 2009 07:56 No Comment]

ALeqM5hiVC8ClBzN1c2OGQ9FLjRpTqAk6g Sri Lanka is reviewing a move to expel a senior United Nations official over comments he made during the final weeks of the country’s decades long ethnic war, a senior official said Monday.

James Elder, communications chief for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), was ordered out of the country for allegedly being biased towards the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

"Mr. Elder’s case is under review," Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary Palitha Kohona told AFP.

The move comes after UNICEF on Sunday sought more details on Elder’s visa status after immigration officials instructed him to leave within two weeks.

"They (UNICEF) are talking to us, and we are listening," Kohona said.

An Australian passport holder, Elder had been working for UNICEF in Sri Lanka since July last year and had a residency visa valid until 2010.

He and other aid officials spoke on civilian casualties towards the end of the war, before Sri Lankan troops finally beat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a massive offensive in May to end decades of fighting.

Sri Lanka took a dim view of international criticism over its conduct of the war. The government blocked independent media access into the conflict zone, while the few journalists who had access were taken on military conducted tours.

"Mr. Elder was doing propaganda in support of the LTTE," Kohona told AFP on Sunday. "It was unacceptable. UN officials are meant to be impartial and the government took a very dim view of it."

"Towards the end of the conflict, he issued statements that were not researched, not exactly based on fact, but reflective of the LTTE."

Before the government’s defeat of the Tigers, Elder spoke of the "unimaginable hell" suffered by children caught up in the last stages of the war.

"James Elder has been UNICEF’s voice advocating on behalf of those who do not have a voice — children and the most vulnerable," Sarah Crowe, UNICEF’s South Asia regional chief of communications, told AFP from New Delhi on Sunday.

"We strongly feel that he should continue to act as an impartial advocate on behalf of Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable women and children."

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