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Lanka expels senior Unicef official

world Updated: Sep 07, 2009 02:08 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Sri Lanka Government on Sunday asked James Elder, Communications Chief with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), to leave the island nation within the next two weeks time.

Though there was no official explanation for the decision, sources in the Foreign Office said that the government was concerned over repeated remarks Elder had made to the media about Internally Displaced People (IDPs), in particular the conditions of children in camps.

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 UN official carrying a UN passport with diplomatic status to be asked to leave Sri Lanka.

Two week's time has been given after he appealed from an order to leave immediately.

"This is not an expulsion but merely the standard procedure that is carried out by the immigration authorities," the outgoing Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said without elaborating.

Immigration Chief PB Abeykoon, however, confirmed that he had been instructed by the government to cancel Elder's visa, but gave no other details.

"His visa has been cancelled from September 7 and he was ordered to leave immediately. But the UN appealed for more time and we extended until September 21".

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 300,000 Tamils who are being interned," the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) said.

Meanwhile, a delegation of pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is expected to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss issues related to the nearly 3 lakh war displaced housed in government run relief camps.

In another development, the Asian Shippers Council (ASC), the largest maritime representative body in the world, is to shift its Asian region permanent Secretariat from Singapore to Sri Lanka.

"With the dawn of sustainable peace it is expected that Sri Lanka will have better opportunities to expand its vistas in the maritime industry as a main hub in the Asian region.

The move of the ASC in this regard will be a catalyst", a report posted on Information Department quoted the local maritime as saying.

The Council consists of shippers from all parts of Asia and is the global component of the Global Shippers' Forum. This includes Greater China, North East Asia, South East Asia, South Asia and Oceania.

"ASC will highlight Colombo as an important transshipment and aviation location in the South Asian region. The move is also expected to increase confidence internationally in Sri Lanka and help reduce high insurance charges on freight from Sri Lanka, ASC said".

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