Thursday, September 10, 2009

UN Seeks Talks With Sri Lanka Over Unicef Spokesman’s Expulsion

By Dave McCombs - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon aims to raise the expulsion of a UN Children’s Fund spokesman from Sri Lanka with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and “strongly regrets” the decision, his office said.

The government in Colombo ordered Unicef spokesman James Elder to leave the country earlier this month over comments he made on the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The UN is “working impartially to assist the people of Sri Lanka,” Ban’s office said in a statement yesterday. The UN’s work there “includes making public statements when necessary in an effort to save lives and prevent grave humanitarian problems.”

Rajapaksa faces rising pressure from the UN to respond to allegations of human rights abuses and to speed the return of about 280,000 refugees driven into camps by the war against the LTTE. Sri Lanka yesterday criticized a UN special rapporteur who called for an independent investigation into whether a video appearing to show the army executing nine people is authentic.

Rajiva Wijesinha, secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, said Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on executions, was pursuing a “political agenda” rather than being concerned about human rights.

A day earlier, Sri Lanka revoked Elder’s visa after he said he’d seen “babies with shrapnel wounds, gunshot injuries and blast wounds” during Sri Lanka’s final push against the LTTE, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported on its Web site. Elder had also condemned the recruitment of young children by Tamil Tiger rebels, the BBC said.

Human Rights

The Asian Centre for Human Rights on Sept. 6 condemned Elder’s expulsion and urged Ban and international donors including India to demand it be revoked.

International donors must ensure “full and unrestricted access” to camps, which the media and aid agencies are barred from visiting, the body said in an e-mailed statement.

Sri Lanka defeated the LTTE in May, ending the rebels’ 26- year fight for a separate homeland in the country’s north and east.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a Sri Lankan military spokesman, wasn’t immediately available for immediate comment on Ban’s statement.


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