New Delhi/Colombo, Sep.7 (ANI): A New Delhi-based human rights watchdog has said that the expulsion of a senior UNICEF official by the Government of Sri Lanka "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."
Suhas Chakma, Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights, said: "It is worse than the way UN agencies are treated by authoritarian regimes and sets a new low. Burma treats aid workers better."
Chakma was referring to Colombo's move to give James Elder, UNICEF's head of communications in Colombo, two weeks to leave the country after he expressed concerns about the plight of Tamils in the government-run "welfare camps".
Elder is the first UN official to be expelled from the country. He was told that his diplomatic status will be revoked, even though his visa does not expire until next July.
There was no response from the government yesterday, although it has been reported that immigration authorities in Colombo had been instructed by the government to cancel the visa.
According to local newspapers, the government had been angered by remarks made by Elder to the media about the conditions in government camps that are home to almost 300,000 Tamils displaced after the Sri Lankan army routed the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May.
Elder warned recently that the island's impending monsoon would flood the refugee camps, and called on the government to act.
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.
UNICEF pointed out ultimate responsibility for the camps rested with the government, and that the UN's support had been greatly hindered by the government's restrictions on access to the camps.
Elder, an Australian national, was a familiar figure to those who covered the bloody end game of the Sri Lankan civil war. He had been working in Sri Lanka for UNICEF since July last year and had been featured on foreign television news channels as well as quoted in international media. (ANI)