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U.N. Special Rep. Sergio Vieira De Mello Has Died

Aired August 19, 2003 - 14:26   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now of course, the other story we've been following throughout today. Possibly the boldest terrorist attack since tend of major combat in Iraq nearly four months ago and that is the truck bomb that went off at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
Now confirming the death of 18 people; 18 people killed in that explosion. The flag remains at half-staff outside the U.N. headquarters in New York.

One of those deaths, as we've been telling you, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. special representative to Iraq. He was among those killed in today's blast.

Chris Wallick (ph), CNN producer, has the story on his life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, CNN PRODUCER (voice-over): A philosophy and humanities major in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, and later at the Sorbonnes, Sergio Vieira de Mello began his career with the United Nations' refugee agency in 1969.

Friends and colleagues described him as suave, silver haired, a career diplomat with intense charm.

Chart his career with the U.N. and it takes you to some of the toughest assignments in the world. He cut his teeth as a field officer in Bangladesh and then Sudan.

He moved on to duties in Cyprus. His first high-profile position as adviser to U.N. forces in Lebanon.

Beginning in 1990, he was responsible for negotiating the status of refugees in Rwanda. De Mello's career focused early on refugees and peace keeping, with issues like demining and feeding and housing displaced people.

As he gained status and experience, de Mello became special envoy or special representative in Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Calm and steady, trademarks of the man. according to colleagues and friends.

From 1999 to 2002, de Mello was U.N.'s transitional administrator for East Timor, where he was active and engaged, by all accounts.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: All right. Let's go live now to the United Nations. We apologize for interrupting that taped piece, but we'll try to get it to you later. This is Fred Eckhard, the U.N. spokesman, in New York.

FRED ECKHARD, U.N. SPOKESMAN: He has personally authorized the following statement to be issued in his name concerning the death of his special representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"The loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello is a bitter blow for the United Nations and for me personally. The death of any colleague is hard to bear. But I can think of no one we could less afford to spare or who would be more acutely missed throughout the U.N. system than Sergio.

"Throughout his career, he has been an outstanding servant of humanity, dedicated to relieving the suffering of his fellow men and women, helping them to restore their conflicts and rebuild their war- torn societies.

"In his work with the peoples of every continent, as an official of the high commissioner for refugees, as emergency relief coordinator, as my special representative in Kosovo and East Timor and all too briefly as high commissioner for human rights, in all those positions he impressed everyone with his charm, his energy and his ability to get things done. Not by force but by diplomacy and persuasion.

"In Iraq, where he spent the last months of his life, he was working day and night to help the Iraqi people regain control of their own destiny and build a future of peace, justice, and full independence.

"It is tragic that he has now given his life in that cause, along with others who, like him, were devoted and much loved servants of the United Nations.

"Those who killed him have committed a crime, not only against the United Nations, but against Iraq itself.

"I share the grief of Sergio's family. We shall all miss him sorely as a colleague and friend. Let us also strive to be worthy of him and to complete the work that he began so that his death will not have been in vein."

Thank you.

Yes, Bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fred, could you give us the latest -- your figures on the number of killed and number of injured? And can you confirm the reports of death of Nadia Unis (ph)?

ECKHARD: We're not confirming, besides the death of Sergio, any other specifically by name at this time. The latest number that we have from the security official responsible in Baghdad is 15 dead and 100 injured. That number can continue to rise, because many of the injured are gravely injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know when you might be able to publish the names of U.N. personnel killed?

ECKHARD: That, of course, has to follow a very careful process of notification of next of kin. And depending on how long -- we would not be in a position to release the names. So I don't think it would be soon that we would make those names public.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: what type of options does the U.N. have for improving security in Iraq? In any independent -- independent of the U.S.-led coalition or is the U.N. entirely dependent upon what the U.S. will or will not do in that particular...

ECKHARD: We are entirely in their hands. The security of everyone in Iraq: the Iraqis, the nongovernmental humanitarian workers, the U.N. relief workers. Everyone is dependent upon the coalition for their security in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How soon do you think you can appoint a successor to Mr. De Mello (ph)...

ECKHARD: I think it's too soon to think about that, although as I indicated earlier -- as I indicated earlier, the secretary-general had been considering a number of individuals as possible successors to Sergio when his four-month tenure of duty ran out. So I don't think, though, we're prepared to talk about the next steps just yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you confirm whether or not Mr. de Mello was the first high-ranking U.N. official to die or be killed in a terrorist attack?

ECKHARD: He was not the first. I can't give you the history of the organization going back more than 50 years off the top of my head. But a noted international civil servant killed in the line of duty was Foke Bernadotte (ph) and that was in the late 1940s, I believe, in the Middle East.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Among the 15 dead, how many (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ECKHARD: I don't have that number.

O'BRIEN: A sad day at the United Nations. Fred Eckhard, the U.N. spokesman addressing reporters there.


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