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Tears and tributes as world mourns UN Iraq envoy
( 2003-08-20 15:43) (Agencies)

A shocked world mourned the loss of one of its most respected diplomats on Wednesday and urged the United Nations not to let an unprecedented bomb attack on its Iraq headquarters deflect it from its mission.

Staff at U.N. headquarters in New York, many in tears, recalled dead or missing colleagues, among them Sergio Vieira de Mello, head of the world body's operation in Iraq and one of at least 17 people killed in Tuesday's blast.

As rescuers hunted for survivors, Asia paid its own special tribute to the 55-year-old Brazilian diplomat and champion of human rights who put Cambodia on the path to multi-party rule and steered East Timor to independence from Indonesia.

"As a country which has fallen victim to acts of terror, Indonesia recognizes the importance of not succumbing to the dictates of terror," Indonesia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

"It is important for the U.N. to continue its noble mission in Iraq," the world's most populous Muslim nation added. "The role of the U.N. in post-conflict Iraq is central."

President Bush, who has denied the U.N. a leading role in the reconstruction of Iraq, led an outraged world in denouncing the apparent suicide attack and said it would not derail U.S. efforts to put the country back on its feet.

"The civilized world will not be intimidated, and these killers will not determine the future of Iraq," Bush told reporters after calling U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.


"By attempting to spread chaos and fear, terrorists are testing our will. Across the world, they are finding that our will cannot be shaken," Bush said.

Bush, whose forces were responsible for protecting the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, has had little success in persuading other nations to send peacekeepers to Iraq, but his angry denunciation of Tuesday's attack found echoes across the world.

China, a fellow Security Council permanent member, condemned the attack, but a foreign ministry statement added pointedly:

"China supports the UN effort for the reconstruction of Iraq and strongly calls for authorities concerned to take measures to safeguard the personal security of UN staff in Iraq."

Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, which sent troops to the U.S.-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein, and New Zealand all added their voices to the chorus of protest.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates strongly condemned the bombing in statements carried on their official news agencies.

Many countries had warm words for Vieira de Mello, tipped as a successor to Annan.

Brazil, his home country, declared three days of mourning.

"Our nation mourns the death of a unique and unforgettable friend," East Timor President Xanana Gusmao said in a statement. "He fought tirelessly for democracy, human rights and sustainable justice for the people of East Timor."

Australia's prime minister, John Howard, whose country worked closely with Vieira de Mello in East Timor, had his own tribute.

"He was a fine diplomat, a tireless crusader for peace and a thoroughly decent man and somebody who had devoted his life to bringing about harmony and understanding between peoples with strongly held opinions," Howard said.

Indonesia, which had been reluctant to let East Timor go, said Vieira de Mello "personified the high dedication and bravery of those serving humanity under the banner of the U.N., often in most difficult circumstances."


But alongside the tributes, there were also calls for the world body not to abandon its role in Iraq.

"The U.N. needs to...reinforce its resolve to see through their mission and to make sure they're able to do what the international community expects them to do," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

Japan, which has offered troops for Iraq but has held back from sending them, denounced the bombing.

"Our country will continue to cooperate with the international community for the reconstruction of Iraq," Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi added in a statement.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, thoughts were for lost friends and colleagues.

"I can think of no one we could less afford to spare, or who would be more acutely missed throughout the U.N. system," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said of Vieira de Mello.

But the sorrow was mixed with anger.

The U.N. Staff Council's security committee called on Annan "to suspend all operations in Iraq and withdraw its staff" until security was improved.

It demanded a "full investigation" to determine why adequate security, supplied by the United States, was not in place.

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