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Sadruddin Aga Khan, 70; Prince Was Official at U.N.

May 14, 2003|From Associated Press

GENEVA — Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, a wealthy philanthropist who held a string of top humanitarian posts at the United Nations, has died, associates said Tuesday. He was 70.

Sadruddin died Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said Nasir Sunderji, an official of the Geneva-based Bellerive Foundation, an environmental organization founded by Sadruddin.

The cause of death was not announced.

Sadruddin started his long career with the United Nations as an advisor to UNESCO for Afro-Asian projects. He was the youngest and longest-serving U.N. high commissioner for refugees, taking over the post in 1965 at age 33 and staying for 12 years.

"All in UNHCR and the humanitarian community are deeply saddened by the passing away of Sadruddin Aga Khan," said Ruud Lubbers, the refugee agency chief.

Sadruddin led U.N. efforts to cope with 10 million refugees from the breakup of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

He helped find homes for tens of thousands of Vietnamese who fled their Communist homeland in the mid-1970s, and for Asians kicked out of Uganda by then-dictator Idi Amin.

After resigning as refugee chief in 1977, Sadruddin held a series of senior U.N. roles, including coordinator for the U.N. humanitarian assistance programs for Afghanistan during 1988-1990 and special U.N. representative for humanitarian assistance for Iraq and Kuwait after the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991.

Throughout his life, he was involved in environmental protection of the Alps and rare Alpine birds.

He also supported cultural endeavors, including publication of the Paris Review, a leading literary journal.

Sadruddin was born in Paris in January 1933 into a world of fabulous wealth as the son of Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III -- spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims.

He held French, Iranian and Swiss passports and was educated at Harvard University, allowing him to proclaim himself a "citizen of the world."

Sadruddin was married for five years to a model, Nina Dyer, and their divorce in 1962 was headline news.

But he quickly shed his playboy image and generally managed to avoid the gossip that dogged many members of the dynasty.

Urbane and eloquent, he and his Greek-born second wife, Catherine Sursock, were familiar but discrete figures on the Geneva social scene.

He was passionate about Islamic art and archeology, as well as about bridging the understanding between different cultures.

At his elegant Chateau de Bellerive on the shores of Lake Geneva, Sadruddin amassed a huge collection of priceless paintings, drawings and manuscripts from Turkey, Iran and India, dating from the 14th century.

Sadruddin is survived by his wife; his nephews, the Aga Khan IV and Prince Amyn Aga Khan; his niece, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan Embiricos; and his stepsons, Alexandre, Marc and Nicholas Sursock, the Bellerive Foundation said.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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