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Ban regrets Lanka's expulsion of UNICEF official

By Suman Guha Mozumder
September 09, 2009 12:04 IST
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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has regretted Colombo's the decision to expel James Elder, a spokesman for United Nation's Children Fund in Sri Lanka for allegedly making adverse remarks against the government over rights violations and war causalities.

The secretary defended the public statements of Elder to save lives and prevent humanitarian problems.

A spokesperson for Ban told mediapersons in New York on Tuesday that the secretary-general has 'full confidence in the work of the United Nations in Sri Lanka, which includes making public statements when necessary in a bid to save lives and prevent grave humanitarian problems.'

The secretary-general felt that the UN is working impartially to assist the people of Sri Lanka, and the government should be supporting and cooperating with its efforts.

Despite his apparent frustration with Colombo's action, the secretary general will take up the issue with Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the earliest opportunity.

The spokesperson said Ban will 'continue to urge' Rajapaksa to implement all the commitments made in their joint statement after the secretary-general's visit to Sri Lanka in May.

But whether Colombo would pay much heed to such urging remains to be seen.

Soon after the SG's return from Colombo in May, highly-placed UN sources told that the impression Ban and his team of senior officials got following talks with Sri Lanka's president and other senior officials was that Colombo was more interested in working with India rather than the world body.

"At present they (Colombo) do not seem to be overanxious to engage with the UN in terms of the political reconciliation question. They will rather work with India and discuss with New Delhi, although they do not mind discussing some issues with the world body," the sources told

The primary mission of the visit was to find out how to aid the country's relief and reconstruction efforts and the impact of the military operation against LTTE on the civilian population.

Nonetheless, the Secretary General does not seem to giving up on engaging Sri Lanka.

Last week in Geneva, Ban met with the minister of disaster management and human rights of Sri Lanka discussing the conditions in the camps for internally displaced persons, particularly with the approaching monsoon season. 

They also discussed the return of internally displaced persons as well as the importance of free movement of people among the camps and free movement of UN and international humanitarian workers. 

"They talked about the importance of reconciliation and they also discussed accountability, particularly in the light of recent accusations of extrajudicial executions," the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has expressed its concern and disappointment with the Sri Lankan government's decision to expel Elder.

In the statement, it said that UNICEF has always upheld the principle of impartial advocacy and communication on behalf of children as a fundamental part of its global mandate.

"Through Elder, UNICEF has consistently spoken out against the suffering of children on both sides of the intense hostilities earlier this year and called for their protection. UNICEF unequivocally rejects any allegation of bias. UNICEF will continue to uphold its mandate in Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, to advocate and speak out on behalf of vulnerable children and women," the spokesperson added.

Elder has to get out of Colombo by September 21.

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Suman Guha Mozumder in New York