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U.N. Envoy Mourned as Hero in Brazil

August 24, 2003|From Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — Slain envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello will be remembered for easing suffering in trouble spots around the world, but his legacy could be the restoration of democracy in Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Saturday.

Vieira de Mello didn't finish his work, but his dying wish was for the United Nations to remain in Iraq, Annan said at the start of a 24-hour memorial wake in the envoy's native city.

"Let us respect that," Annan said at the service attended by about 50 relatives and dignitaries in an ornate colonial-style palace in Rio de Janeiro. "Let Sergio, who has given his life in that cause, find a fitting memorial in a free and sovereign Iraq."

Vieira de Mello, the chief U.N. envoy in Iraq, died Tuesday in a truck bombing of the world body's headquarters in Baghdad, which killed at least 20 people.

The 55-year-old diplomat had taken a leave of absence from his job as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to accept the four-month assignment in Baghdad at Annan's request.

"Sergio, my friend, you have entered that pantheon of fallen heroes that the United Nations wishes it did not have," Annan said. "You will shine forever among our brightest stars."

For more than 30 years, Vieira de Mello worked to bring peace to the world's most dangerous hot spots -- including Kosovo and East Timor. His diplomatic skills were so admired that he had been talked about as a future U.N. secretary-general.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told mourners that the diplomat was a hero to the world.

"The U.N. lost one of its most extraordinary diplomats," Lula said. "Brazil lost a symbol of a man who gave all his intelligence and joy to the search for a better world." Vieira's widow, Annie, wiped away tears as she was consoled by Annan and Lula.

The wake was held in Rio to honor the wishes of the envoy's 86-year-old mother, who has been ill and is not expected to attend his burial in the French town of Thonon les Bains, where Vieira de Mello lived.

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