Sri Lanka on Sunday asked James Elder, Communications Chief with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), to leave the nation within two weeks.
Though there was no official explanation for the decision, sources in the Foreign Office said the government was concerned over repeated remarks Mr. Elder had made to the media about Internally Displaced People (IDPs) — in particular the conditions of children in camps.
Mr. Elder was not available for comment but UNICEF released a statement saying it was urgently “seeking clarity from the Sri Lankan authorities on the visa status” of its official. He is the first U.N. official carrying a U.N. passport with diplomatic status to be asked to leave Sri Lanka. Time has been given after he appealed to an order to leave immediately. “This is not an expulsion but merely the standard procedure that is carried out by the immigration authorities,” said outgoing Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona. Immigration Chief P. B. Abeykoon, however, confirmed that he had been instructed by the government to cancel Mr. Elder’s visa but gave no other details.
The expulsion has been condemned by human rights groups who claim the state’s actions were intended to “stop humanitarian relief and monitoring operations”.
“This is a clear warning to the UN agencies and all relief workers not to speak out about the situation of 3,00,000 Tamils who are being interned,” said the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).Meanwhile, a delegation of pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is expected to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss issues related to the nearly three lakh war displaced housed in government run relief camps.