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UNHCR mourns loss of "UN's best" in Baghdad bombing

UNHCR mourns loss of "UN's best" in Baghdad bombing

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed shock and sadness at the tragic loss of UN Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and his team in Iraq.
20 August 2003
Steering East Timor towards independence: Sergio Vieira de Mello and East Timor President Xanana Gusmao during an April 2002 meeting in Dili.

GENEVA, August 20 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is mourning the deaths of UN Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and his team in Iraq, victims of a bomb attack on the UN's headquarters in Baghdad on Tuesday.

"We are shocked by this tragic loss," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, who is currently on mission in Africa's Great Lakes region and Angola.

He added, "All too often it is the best people who are sent to the most challenging places. Sergio Vieira de Mello and his team were certainly the best the United Nations had to offer, all of them colleagues devoted to the UN's humanitarian mission, paying the ultimate price in the process."

Tuesday's bombing at the UN headquarters in Baghdad's Canal Hotel killed Vieira de Mello and at least 17 other staff members. UNHCR's staff have all been accounted for, including one worker who was not seriously injured in the blast.

Vieira de Mello was a life-long diplomat and UN veteran. He started his career with the UN refugee agency in 1969, serving in posts in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia before being appointed Assistant High Commissioner in 1996. He went on to assume numerous senior positions on behalf of the UN Secretary-General.

Among his notable achievements were his work in post-conflict Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor. He was appointed as the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq in May this year.

Vieira de Mello with then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at Cambodia's Otaki reception centre in 1992.

"Sergio Vieira de Mello was a true gentleman who garnered the respect of adversaries, a tough negotiator who fought for human rights and the dignity of the downtrodden," said High Commissioner Lubbers. "But for so many of us at the UN refugee agency who knew his friendly smile and warm handshake, Sergio was also a dear friend."

In memory of Vieira de Mello and other UN staff dead or missing after Tuesday's blast, UNHCR staff on Wednesday observed a moment of silence at the refugee agency's headquarters in Geneva.

Back in Iraq, security concerns have led UNHCR to postpone a third return convoy of 300 Iraqi refugees scheduled to leave Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp on Tuesday night. All operations by the refugee agency in Iraq are temporarily on hold, pending UN security reviews.