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UN commander in Haiti dies in apparent suicide

January 7, 2006

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) – The commander of the
United Nations’ peacekeeping force in Haiti was found dead in
his hotel room on Saturday after apparently shooting himself in
the head, U.N. officials said.

Brazilian Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira Da Matta Bacellar’s death
comes as the troubled Caribbean country struggles to organize
its first presidential election since a monthlong armed revolt
ousted then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

The general, 58, who had been in command of the
9,000-strong U.N. force in Haiti since the end of August,
appeared to have been alone in his suite at the Montana hotel
in the capital Port-au-Prince at the time of the shooting.

His gun was found near his body, which was dressed in
shorts and a white T-shirt, witnesses said.

“It is unfortunate and devastating to see such a good and
honorable general killed in such circumstances,” Brazil’s
ambassador to Haiti, Paulo Cordeiro de Andrade Pinto, told
Reuters as he left the hotel.

The Brazilian army initially referred to the incident as a
“firearm accident.” The army later released a statement saying
the armed forces “profoundly lamented” the death of the
general, who was a career military officer, and that it would
cooperate with the police investigation.

The general’s sister, Bartira Bacellar, told TV Band in his
home state of Rio Grande do Sul that the family was devastated.
“We always accompanied his career, for which he had lots of
enthusiasm,” she said.

Brazil was expected to send an air force aircraft to pick
up his body on Sunday.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said
Annan was “shocked and saddened” and that an investigation was
under way.

PERSISTENT VIOLENCE

The U.N. mission, known by its acronym MINUSTAH, was sent
to Haiti to keep the peace between supporters and foes of
Aristide after the 2004 revolt.

But the country of 8.5 million people has continued to be
afflicted by political violence and a wave of kidnappings has
swept through Port-au-Prince despite the presence of the
Brazilian-led U.N. troops and police.

The business sector, which vigorously opposed Aristide, and
the interim government have called on the U.N. force to be more
aggressive in taking on street gangs that control many of the
sprawling slums in Port-au-Prince. Many of the gangs are seen
as supporters of the exiled Aristide.

In contrast, civil and leftist groups in Brazil have
criticized the U.N. force for being too aggressive in
patrolling the slums. Dozens of civilians have been caught in
the cross-fire during gunfights between U.N. troops and gangs.

U.N. mission head Juan Gabriel Valdes announced on Friday
that U.N. troops would occupy the Cite Soleil slum, the
capital’s most dangerous ghetto, and warned that civilians
could be harmed.

“We are going to intervene in the coming days. I think
there’ll be collateral damage but we have to impose our force,
there is no other way,” Valdes told a local radio station. His
comments on collateral damage alarmed civic groups in Haiti.

Bacellar had opposed Valdes’ plan for Cite Soleil, some
U.N. officials said.

The presidential election was originally scheduled for
November but has been put off repeatedly and now is expected to
take place in February.

Haiti’s interim authorities have blamed the U.N. mission
and the Organization of American States for the delays, a
charge both organizations refute.

(Additional reporting by Terry Wade in Sao Paulo)


Source: reuters