UNICEF defends spokesman after expulsion order

A young girl cries amongst the injured in the final days of the conflict. Children were often the biggest victim of the 26-year-old conflict

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has defended its spokesman in Sri Lanka, saying the official did nothing wrong after the government ordered his expulsion from the country.

The Sri Lankan government said over the weekend that it had ordered James Elder to leave because of comments he made about the civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

But Sarah Crowe, UNICEF's chief of communication for South Asia, said Elder had been doing his job by "speaking out on behalf of those who do not have a voice. We categorically stand by all the statements we made throughout the conflict and since the conflict on the situation of women and children in Sri Lanka," she told IRIN.

The Island newspaper in Sri Lanka on 7 September quoted an unnamed government official as saying Elder had caused damage to Sri Lanka and strengthened the LTTE's propaganda. The official said the expulsion would not be reversed.

Elder, an Australian citizen, has until 21 September to leave Sri Lanka.

Crowe said contradictory statements had been issued by government spokespeople and ministers over the matter, and that UNICEF was still trying to find out the reason behind Elder's expulsion order.

"We are still seeking absolute clarity on the reasons, and if there isn't some kind of miscommunication and misunderstanding," said Crowe.

In the last days of the conflict, many children fell victim

In the last days of the conflict, many children fell victim
Sunday, September 6, 2009
UNICEF defends spokesman after expulsion order
In the last days of the conflict, many children fell victim

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
In the last days of the conflict, children often suffered the most

She said UNICEF would appeal the decision and take the case to UN headquarters in New York if the Sri Lankan government did not change its mind.

"If it does come to this, and the government doesn't appear to be rescinding the decision, we would have to take it to a higher level," Crowe said.

"We would find it most regrettable if they were not going to rescind the decision," she added.

The government declared victory against the LTTE in May this year, ending a 26-year war that has killed thousands of people.

Some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled the fighting are languishing in government camps in the north of the country.

More than three months on, access to the camps by journalists - both international and local - remains highly restricted.

Elder had spoken about the poor conditions affecting children there, and the general effects of the war on them.

However, Crowe said UNICEF would continue its work in the war-torn country. "We will continue to uphold our mandate. That will not change," she said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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