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U.N. Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello Has Died

Aired August 19, 2003 - 13:24   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you straight to the U.N. now. Michael Okwu is standing by with developing news, I'm being told, with regard to -- it's actually just coming through to us.
Tell us the latest with Sergio Vieira de Mello, as he remains trapped still in the bombed-out U.N. building in Baghdad -- Michael.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We understand, Kyra, from the U.N. spokesman's office that Sergio Vieira de Mello has, in fact, passed away. We understand that this was given to us just moments ago -- Mr. de Mello, of course, a 55-year-old veteran, a Brazilian diplomat who was highly respected here at the United Nations.

Now, he had been doing work there as the U.N. special representative, as you know. He is a longtime veteran of U.N. operations, recently did some work in East Timor there, essentially as the administrator of that country, running it basically, and getting very, very high marks.

Mr. de Mello was somebody who was highly respected in all quarters here. He was called on to be the high commissioner for human rights, so highly respected, in fact, that the secretary-general, Kofi Annan, while he was holding that position, sent him over for this very sensitive job in Iraq.

There have been tears in the hallways, not least of which because people were expecting the very worst about him, but also because there were some 300 people working in that office. Unclear how many other people might have been there at the time. And everybody here, Kyra, knew somebody who was working there.

But, again, what we are hearing from the spokesman's office here at the United Nations at this point is Sergio Vieira de Mello, the special representative for Iraq, has died -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Michael, you talked about his reputation and the fact that he was just appointed human rights commissioner. Paul Bremer, the head of the civilian, you know, project to reconstruct Iraq, coming forward, saying possibly that de Mello was the target in this attack. Why?

OKWU: It is really unclear at this point. It seems to be a very, very big question: Why would you target this particular individual, certainly why would you target the United Nations at all? The U.N. was the one internationally recognized body, if you talk to most diplomats here, that had some sense of legitimacy there. So, it's still a very big question -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: All right, Michael Okwu from the U.N., some heart- wrenching news. Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go right to Baghdad. CNN's Jane Arraf is at the scene of that bombing at the hotel that the U.N. used as a compound. We'll get further reaction from there from her -- Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: We're just in front of the building where Sergio Vieira de Mello appears to have died, after being trapped in that rubble, a car bomb that exploded just outside his office.

And we have with us his spokesman, Salim Lone, someone who worked very closely with him.

In fact, you were with him just before he died.

SALIM LONE, U.N. SPOKESMAN: Yes, I was with him about two hours before he died, and we spent a wonderful two hours together. And I'm just devastated to hear this -- that he has died. I grieve for him. I grieve for his family. I grieve for all of his friends.

But I grieve most of all for the people of Iraq, because he was the man who could really have helped bring about an end to occupation, an end to the trauma the people of Iraq have suffered for so long, to lead the reconstruction effort.

It's a very sad day for Iraq and for the United Nations and wherever there are people who are in conflict and strife, because he always chose -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan, he chose him for the most difficult missions. He chose him for East Timor, he chose him for Kosovo, and he chose him for Iraq.

And he didn't want to come here, because, you know, he was now high commissioner for human rights. And he said, "I do not want to give up my commitment to human rights in order to do this." But everyone said to him, "We need you there." And, indeed in Iraq it is a question of human rights. So, he agreed, for four months only.

And he was going -- I mean, everybody was telling him, "You have to stay beyond September, Sergio, because the reconstruction conference, which you're always talking about, is going to be on the 24th of October. How could you possibly just leave at the end of September and not take charge of it yourself?" And he would laugh. He never said I will stay.

But we were all hoping that enough pressure would be brought on him so that he could see through, because that is what the people of Iraq needs. They need reconstruction, and reconstruction not just in terms of water and electricity, they need reconstruction of their lives, of their relations among themselves. You know, this has been a society under extreme stress -- the extreme dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the terrible impact of the sanctions it had. And then the wars -- the war against Iran, the war against Iraq and the Gulf War -- Kuwait, I'm sorry, and the last war. I mean, the people of Iraq have suffered like no other people have suffered in recent memory. And he was here to try to help bring about an end to the suffering and to bring about reconciliation in this country.

PHILLIPS: There had been threats against the U.N., and certainly there is a climate of danger. Had he worried about them? Had he expected anything like this?

LONE: Well, we certainly had many meetings in which we discussed the possibility of being targeted. And we certainly were aware. Every one of us who came here and most of all Sergio, because he was the symbol of the U.N. here, every one of us knew that when we came here we were taking a risk. But every one of us wanted to be here. We did not mind the risk, because I think deep down we were so sure that we would not be targeted, that everyone knows we go around unarmed. We don't work behind barbed wires and tanks. We don't have armed escorts. We come here to be with the people of Iraq, and we know the people of Iraq, because we have been here for so long.

We have had some teams from New York in recent days in every sector of Iraqi life, assessing, what are their needs? And the wonderful stories they've been telling at the hotel -- you know, we can't go out after 8:00, so we are forced to talk to each other every night about what happened during the day. And the incredible stories they're telling about Iraqis, you know, both very painful as well as very wonderful.

And we felt so good. I mean, I felt so good that I was trying to get as many of the people who are out there talking to the people, but at least to come and see Sergio, because he always wanted to know, look, how are the people feeling? What are they saying?

ARRAF: Thank you so much. That was Salim Lone, who is the spokesman for Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, the Brazilian diplomat troubleshooter all over the world, who died in the rubble when a car bomb, a truck bomb exploded near his office earlier today.

Back to you.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jane Arraf in northeast Baghdad.



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