| Kofi Annan at a service in memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello in Rio de Janeiro. (Reuters)
Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 23 (Reuters): In a moving and personal tribute, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan today vowed to complete the work of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN envoy to Iraq killed in Tuesday’s bomb blast.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called the Brazilian diplomat a national hero. Annan and Lula were among the mourners who attended the wake for the global human rights champion in his native city of Rio de Janeiro.
“His dying wish was that the United Nations mission there (in Iraq) should not be pulled out. Let us respect that. Let Sergio, who has given his life in that cause, find a fitting memorial in a free and sovereign Iraq,” Annan said after embracing Vieira de Mello’s 83-year-old mother.
Before dying under the rubble of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Vieira de Mello, 55, who was coordinating humanitarian relief efforts with the occupying US and British forces, urged that the mission not be abandoned.
Lula told Vieira de Mello’s mother standing by the closed coffin: “We should think of Sergio as a national hero,” and said the diplomat had spared no effort in his quest “for a better world, peace, a more humanised planet.” The envoy, who was also UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was held in high regard and had been mentioned as a possible successor to Annan, who called him a “a dear friend.”
He was among the 23 people killed on Tuesday in the truck bomb attack on UN headquarters in Iraq.
Vieira de Mello’s last journey began in Iraq to the sound of bagpipes. The plane with his body then stopped in Geneva, where a brief ceremony was held, before flying to Rio for the wake organised by his family. The funeral will take place in France, where he lived, next week.
Vieira de Mello’s two young sons and his widow were present at the wake.
The plane was met by a military squad of honour and Brazil’s national anthem. A hearse then took the coffin to the colonial Rio City Hall under motorcycle escort.
Vieira de Mello served at UN posts in hot spots such as Mozambique, Lebanon, Cambodia, Bosnia, Congo and East Timor “in their hour of greatest need, to relieve human suffering and to champion human rights,” Annan said.
He recalled that Vieira de Mello used to wear a T-shirt bearing the Brazilian flag when the two jogged in countries where he worked, making the flag known around the world.
“Your flag is flying at half mast today because you have lost one of your finest sons. But in the future this flag ... should fly even higher than before. He has served you well by serving the world, and you have every right to be proud,” Annan said.