[TamilNet, Sunday, 06 September 2009, 13:34 GMT]
Chief of Communications for UNICEF in Sri Lanka, James Elder’s visa to continue to remain in Sri Lanka was refused by Sri Lanka’s Department of Immigration, BBC reported Sunday. Mr Elder, a spokesman for the UN children’s agency regularly spoke to the media on the plight of children caught up in the conflict, but Sri Lanka spokesperson was quoted by BBC as saying “James Elder’s visa has been cancelled over his propaganda in support of the Tigers.”
A Unicef official said on Sunday that James Elder had been “Unicef’s voice advocating on behalf of those who do not have a voice – children and the most vulnerable”.
“We strongly feel that James Elder should be allowed to continue to act as an impartial advocate on behalf of Sri Lanka’s women and children,” Sarah Crowe, Unicef’s regional chief of communications told BBC.
Among others, Mr Elder spoke about issues like malnutrition among children in the refugee camps which attracted wide attention, BBC said.
Unicef and the government had been involved in a war of words over who was responsible for supplying the camps with basic facilities such as toilets and tents. The government said criticisms over lack of facilities should be levelled at the aid agencies, UK’s Guardian reported Sunday.
“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,” said Suhas Chakma, of Delhi’s Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).
“It is worse than the way UN agencies are treated by authoritarian regimes and sets a new low. Burma treats aid workers better,” Guardian added ACHR as saying.
According to local newspapers, the government was angered by remarks Elder made to the media about the conditions in government camps accommodating almost 300,000 Tamils displaced after the army routed the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May. Recently Elder had warned that the island’s impending monsoon would flood the refugee camps, and called on the government to act, Guardian said.
In February, Elder said he had seen injuries suffered by the children, including “babies with shrapnel wounds, gun shot injuries and blast wounds”. He also condemned the recruitment of young children by the Tigers, BBC said.
Meanwhile, Palitha Kohona, permanent secretary at the Sri Lankan ministry of foreign affairs, told the BBC Mr Elder had issued statements “which were not exactly based on facts, which were not researched, which were essentially reflective of the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] perspective.
“He was doing propaganda, in our view, in support of the LTTE,” Kohona was quoted by BBC as saying.
Sri Lankan government evicted all NGOs and journalists from the war zone, and maintained tight control over media coverage of the fighting in the final stages of the war. With local media under tight control of Sri Lanka defense ministry under the direction of Sri Lanka’s President’s brother and US Citizen, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, journalists depended on the UN and other aid officials for information.
After completing military offensive without independent witnesses, the Sri Lanka Government has incarcerated potential witnesses fearing exposure of alleged war-crimes, several human rights groups have said.
Recently a video released by British Channel-4 contained footage of Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soliders summarily executing Tamil men stripped naked and hands bound behind their back.
James Elder also worked for UNICEF in Nyala, South Darfur and completed his assignement in 2004.