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Sri Lanka Expelling Senior UN Official


Sri Lanka's government is ordering the spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund to leave the country. Our correspondent reports the expulsion stems from comments by the official that appeared in the international media in recent months.

The United Nations confirms the spokesman for UNICEF in Sri Lanka has been ordered to leave for what the government says were adverse remarks he made.

The visa for James Elder, an Australian, has been canceled effective Monday (Sept. 7), but officials say after an appeal from the United Nations he will be allowed to stay there under September 21.

Such an expulsion involving the United Nations is unusual, according to UNICEF regional communications chief Sarah Crowe.

"It is somewhat rare," said Sarah Crowe. "We do work in many sensitive parts of the world and we are in more than 140 countries. We are there, of course, at the request and the invitation of any government."

Sri Lanka this year tightly controlled media coverage of fighting that led to the defeat of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The government also harshly criticized correspondents, international organizations and aid workers who it perceived of having a bias against it and sympathy for the rebels.

Four months ago Elder spoke about what he called the "unimaginable hell" suffered by Tamil children caught in the conflict.

UNICEF's Crowe, speaking to VOA from Nepal, contends the agency did not take sides.

"No, I believe certainly UNICEF's voice has remained one of impartial advocacy," she said. "And we will continue to do that, no matter what the circumstances are. And that voice of impartial advocacy has to be on behalf of those who are most vulnerable and who do not have a voice."

During the military's final offensive to crush the rebels, UNICEF said hundreds of children had been killed in the months of battle in the north. The organization more recently has called for the government to allow unhindered access to aid workers in make-shift camps that house hundreds of thousands of Tamils, including women and children.

Tens of thousands of people died in the conflict, which began in 1972. Sri Lankan troops this May wiped out the rebels and killed the group's founder and leader.

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