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Sri Lanka accused of 'North Korean diplomacy'

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Unicef will today hold urgent talks with the Sri Lankan authorities to determine the fate of its spokesman told to leave the country for criticising the government.

James Elder, head of communications for the United Nations agency in Colombo, has been told his diplomatic status has been revoked and his visa - not due to expire until July 2010 - will be cancelled.

He has reportedly been given a fortnight to leave the country after expressing concern at the plight of refugees from the country's civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Almost 300,000 ethnic Tamils remain in the internally displaced person camps in the country's north, months after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were defeated.

Mr Elder is understood to have criticised the Sri Lankan authorities for not adequately preparing the camps for the incoming monsoon season.

But the Sri Lankan response was to promptly order the Unicef spokesperson to leave the country.

Unicef said it was urgently "seeking clarity from the Sri Lankan authorities".

"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," added Unicef south Asian spokeswoman Sarah Crowe.

"We have not got any reason as to why. We are in discussion with the government."

United Nations officials likened Colombo's behaviour to "North Korean diplomacy", the Guardian reported.

More than 80,000 people died during Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war. During the tail-end of fighting in which the Sri Lankan army launched a massive offensive, Mr Elder described conditions for civilians trapped in the island's north-eastern tip as "unimaginable hell".

Both sides denied allegations of war crimes, with Sri Lankan troops accused of bombing civilians indiscriminately and Tamil Tiger gunmen blamed for using civilians as human shields.
© Adfero Ltd
07 September 2009 10:00 GMT

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