Sri Lanka expels UNICEF official, agency says

A Tamil mother walks with her children as civilians wait for food at the Manik Farm refugee camp, May 26, 2009.
The Sri Lankan government has ordered a UNICEF official to leave the country, accusing him of spreading propaganda supporting Tamil rebels, the agency — the United Nations Children’s Fund — told CNN Sunday.

UNICEF denies the allegations against its spokesman in Sri Lanka, James Elder, an Australian citizen, and officials with the agency are scheduled to meet with government officials on Monday in hopes of keeping Elder inside the country, said Sarah Crowe, UNICEF spokeswoman for South Asia. There were no details about Elder’s status from the government. Crowe said Elder has often spoken to the media about the agency’s concerns about children caught up in the country’s civil war and the conditions they endure at camps for the displaced. “James has been our voice and impartial advocate of the most vulnerable women and children. We want him to remain in the country and continue his work,” she said. UNICEF will appeal the expulsion to the “highest level” if it stands, Crowe added.

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The Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers this year. The rebels — formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — waged war for an independent state for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka since July 1983. As many as 70,000 people were killed in the conflict. In February, Elder told CNN that children as young as 4 months old were being treated in hospitals for shrapnel injuries and other wounds of war. The fighting created a “nightmarish” situation for civilians in the conflict zone, Elder had said at the time. “There is just intense fighting in a small area where children and other civilians are,” Elder said. “The space (where conflict is taking place) is shrinking and the fighting is augmenting.”