Thu, Aug 21, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Vieira de Mello's loss a `bitter blow'

RARE INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMAT His exceptional skills led him to Iraq, where he died Tuesday in the bombing of the UN headquarters in troubled Baghdad


Sergio Vieira De Mello, left, UN representative to Iraq who died in yesterday's bomb blast, with Paul Bremer, the top US official in Iraq, in a file photograph taken on June 3.


Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top UN official in Iraq and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who had served the organization in trouble spots around the globe, died on Tuesday from injuries received in the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. He was 55.

"The loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello is a bitter blow for the UN and for me personally," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday. "I can think of no one we could less afford to spare."

On May 29, Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian national, was picked by Annan to be his special representative in Iraq for a period of four months. The choice was widely seen as a tribute to Vieira de Mello's exceptional diplomatic skills and charm, honed on a succession of difficult previous assignments that clearly qualified him for the task of helping rebuild Iraq.

A rare international diplomat who relished high-stakes negotiations as well as grinding work in the field, Vieira de Mello was best known for leading the UN Transitional Administration that prepared East Timor for full independence after it broke from Indonesia.

Earlier he served as the chief UN official in Kosovo after US bombing raids broke Serbian control of the province.

He was rewarded for these successful missions with his appointment in September last year as high commissioner for human rights. (He was on a leave of absence from that job when he was killed.)

His firm but elegant style contrasted with the more confrontational approach of his predecessor, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, and, officials say, improved relations with the Bush administration.

Indeed, with his credentials as a citizen of the developing world and his ease moving in some of the more rarefied political circles, he was frequently mentioned as a potential candidate to head the UN.

Sergio Vieira de Mello: A life of service to humanity

* 1948 -- Born March 15 in Rio de Janeiro

* Studies in Brazil and France, awarded two doctorates from the University of Paris

* 1969 -- Joins the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva

* 1996 -- Becomes UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees

* 1971 -- Serves in Bangladesh as it wins independence

* 1974 -- Serves in Turkey after Turkish independence

* 1975 to 1978 -- In charge of refugees in Mocambique during the civil war

* 1981 to 1983 -- Political adviser to UN peacekeepers in Lebanon

* 1990s -- Dealing with refugees and other humanitarian problems in Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Africa's Great Lakes region

* May 29, 2003 -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative in Iraq

Source: NY Times News service

Announcing Vieira de Mello's appointment to the Baghdad post, Annan acknowledged his exceptional experience in rebuilding war-devastated societies, saying: "No one has more experience in this area than Sergio Vieira de Mello. I need someone who can hit the ground running."

In Baghdad, Vieira de Mello faced the exceptionally difficult task of coordinating the UN efforts to rebuild civil authority and promote humanitarian relief with a US occupying force reluctant to cede authority to the UN.

When the Security Council agreed in May to lift economic sanctions against Iraq and authorize the US and Britain to administer the country until a democratic government is established, it also insisted on giving the UN a role in the country's postwar evolution.

From the moment he arrived, Vieira de Mello insisted his priority was to protect the interests of the Iraqi people during the US-lead occupation.

"I have been sent here with a mandate to assist the Iraqi people and those responsible for the administration of this land to achieve freedom, the possibility of managing their own destiny and determining their own future," he said shortly after he arrived in Iraq.

He also sympathized with Iraqi resentment at having foreign troops on their soil, telling a Brazilian newspaper in an interview published on Monday: "It is traumatic. It must be one of the most humiliating periods in their history. Who would like to see their country occupied. I would not like to see foreign tanks in Copacabana." He was referring to the famous beach in Rio de Janeiro.

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