Brazilian head of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti found dead on hotel balcony

Sunday, January 8, 2006

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The Brazilian commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti was found dead on the balcony of his hotel room Saturday in an apparent suicide, authorities said, a blow to the 9,000-strong force and efforts to restore democracy in Haiti.

U.N. officials and Haitian police swarmed the upscale Hotel Montana where 58-year-old Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, blood staining his white T-shirt, was slumped on a tile floor against the balcony.

"His unexpected death leaves us all bereft, and we offer our most sincere condolences to his family," said Damian Onses-Cardona, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Haiti.

The multinational force is attempting to restore democracy to this impoverished Caribbean island nation two years after a rebellion overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Peacekeepers from more than 40 countries have struggled to control gangs that still hold sway in sprawling slums.

Bacellar's death also came days after officials postponed national elections for the fourth time, blaming security problems and delays in distributing voter registration cards and setting up polling stations. The elections had been planned for Jan. 8. No new date has been set and it was not immediately clear what effect Bacellar's death would have on a new election timetable.

The U.N. named Chilean Gen. Eduardo Aldunate Herman as the interim commander.

A senior U.N. official confirmed to The Associated Press that Bacellar suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information to the press.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan "was shocked and saddened" by Bacellar's death and a full investigation was under way, the United Nations said in a statement.

Outwardly calm and reflective, Bacellar was charged with restoring order in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, in the wake of the February 2004 rebellion.

Haiti's largest business association this week called for a general strike on Monday to pressure the U.N. mission to aggressively move against the gangs in the fetid seaside slum of Cite Soleil. The gangs control Cite Soleil and stash their hostages there while seeking ransoms.

Bacellar, who had served in Brazil's armed forces for 39 years, became commander of the multinational force in September, replacing Brazilian Lt. Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, who had led the force since its deployment to Haiti in June 2004.

Bacellar is survived by his wife and two children. Family members contacted by local media in Brazil declined to comment.

The Brazilian Army issued a statement saying that it "profoundly lamented" Bacellar's death and would closely follow the investigations in Haiti.

Associated Press reporter Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed to this report.

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