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Page last updated at 12:22 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 13:22 UK

Sri Lanka expels Unicef official

Sri Lankan civilians
Many civilians were trapped by the fighting

Sri Lankan authorities have ordered a senior United Nations official to leave the country over comments he made during the war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

James Elder's visa has been cancelled over his "propaganda in support of the Tigers", a spokesman told the BBC.

Unicef angrily rejected the government's "unfounded" allegations.

Mr Elder, a spokesman for the UN children's agency, Unicef, updated the media on the plight of children caught up in Sri Lanka's conflict.

Sri Lanka declared victory in its war against the Tamil Tigers in May.

Mr Elder had raised UN concerns over the fate of children and civilians regularly during the final stages of the government assault in northern Sri Lanka.

In February, he said he had seen injuries suffered by children, including "babies with shrapnel wounds, gunshot injuries and blast wounds".

He also condemned the recruitment of young children by the Tigers.

'Propaganda'

PB Abeykoon, an official at the department of immigration, said Mr Elder's visa had been cancelled as of 7 September and he had been ordered to leave immediately.

We strongly feel that he should continue to act as an impartial advocate on behalf of Sri Lanka's most vulnerable women and children
Sarah Crowe, Unicef

"But the UN appealed for more time and we extended until 21 September," Mr Abeykoon told AFP news agency.

He said the government's decision had been taken months earlier.

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."

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 the BBC.

The Sri Lankan government maintained tight control over media coverage of the fighting in the final stages of the war and journalists depended on the UN and other aid officials for information.

Among others, Mr Elder spoke about issues like malnutrition among children in the refugee camps which attracted wide attention.



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