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Sergio Vieira de Mello: 'A rising star'

Sergio Vieira de Mello
Sergio Vieira de Mello

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CNN's Jane Arraf interviews Salim Lone following news of Sergio Vieira de Mello's death.
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello was among the 17 people who died in Tuesday's bombing of the organization's headquarters in Iraq.

Salim Lone, Vieira de Mello's spokesman in Iraq, told CNN that he had been with the U.N. diplomat two hours before he died.

"I grieve for him, I grieve for his family," Lone said. "I grieve most of all for people of Iraq."

All the national flags that ring the U.N. headquarters' entrance in New York were removed from their poles. The blue and white U.N. flag was lowered to half-staff.

U.N. staff members gathered in corridors, on the promenade facing the East River and around television sets as they mourned the loss of the man spokesman Fred Eckhard called "a rising star."

Vieira de Mello, 55, was trapped in the rubble after the truck bomb exploded beneath his office window Tuesday afternoon, and was reported gravely injured. He later died of his injuries.

After U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed him as his special representative in Iraq, Vieira de Mello vowed to "help the people of Iraq out of what has been a terrible period in their long and noble history."

Annan responded to his death Tuesday: "The loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello is a bitter blow to the United Nations and to me personally. The death of any colleague is hard to bear, but I can think of no one we could less afford to spare than Sergio."

The experienced Brazilian diplomat was appointed in May to a four-month term in Iraq that would have ended August 27.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was among world leaders who paid tribute to Vieira de Mello. Speaking at a news conference beside Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, Lula da Silva declared an official period of mourning.

Vieira de Mello, who also was U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, had extensive experience in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in countries such as Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru and Lebanon.

In Iraq, the United Nations has a role in helping with humanitarian aid, reconstruction, refugee return, economic development, legal and judicial reform and civilian administration.

Vieira de Mello told the 15-member U.N. Security Council in July, "Iraqis need to know that the current state of affairs will come to an end soon. They need to know that stability will return and that the occupation will end."

In a talk in Baghdad in June, he said: "Iraq has suffered far too much for far too long. War, pervasive human rights abuse, and stringent sanctions. Iraqis deserve better, infinitely better.

"The task is huge. We should all come to it with a keen sense of humility and a strong sense of determination."

One of Vieira de Mello's previous positions was as a representative for the secretary-general in Kosovo. He also served as transitional U.N. administrator in East Timor after that country voted for independence.

East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, paid tribute to the legacy of the man who took the new nation to free elections in 2002.

"It is a tremendous, tremendous loss and the people of Timor are in mourning," he told CNN. "He was very humble in dealing with common people, he dealt with everybody."

Ramos-Horta said the only real tribute would be the continued support of the Iraqi people by the international community.

"I just hope that the U.N. family as a whole will come out of this stronger and united in the fight against international terrorism, in continuing to support the Iraqi people in building democracy and peace in Iraq," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also mourned the loss of the Brazilian.

"In my book, Mr. Vieira de Mello was a hero, who dedicated his life to helping people in danger and in difficulty. His loss is a terrible blow to the international community."

Vieira de Mello studied in Brazil and France, and received a doctorate from the University of Paris. He was married with two sons.

Eckhard said Vieira de Mello was not the first top U.N. official to die in the line of duty. He mentioned the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte, a mediator in the Arab-Jewish conflict in the Middle East, in 1948.

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