France: UN mission chief likely dead

By Associated Press
Published January 13, 2010 2:13PM (EST)

France's foreign minister says the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti appears to have died in the earthquake.

Bernard Kouchner told two French radio stations that his information about Tunisian diplomat Hedi Annabi had come from the French ambassador in Haiti.

Kouchner said on RFI radio Wednesday that the ambassador had visited the devastated U.N. headquarters building in Port-au-Prince and said "everyone who was in the building is apparently dead" including Annabi.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The headquarters for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti collapsed in the massive earthquake, with at least 11 peacekeepers reported dead on Wednesday, and scores of others missing.

U.N. troops, mostly from Brazil, were trying to rescue people from the wreckage of the five-story building, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told reporters, but "as we speak no one has been rescued from this main headquarters."

"We know clearly it is a tragedy for Haiti, and a tragedy for the U.N., and especially for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti," he said.

"There will be casualties, but we cannot give figures for the time being," Le Roy said.

Between 200 and 250 people normally work at the peacekeeping headquarters, located on the road from the city to the hillside district of Petionville, but it is unclear how many were in the building when the quake hit a little after 5 p.m. local time, deputy peacekeeping chief Edmond Mulet said.

Among the missing is the head of the U.N. mission, Hedi Annabi, who had been in the building, Le Roy said.

At least eight of the 125 Chinese stationed with the U.N. in Haiti were killed, the China Daily newspaper reported Wednesday, citing the Chinese vice president of earthquake disaster rescue, Liu Xiangyang. Chinese officials told The AP, however, they could not confirm any casualties.

Another three peacekeepers from Jordan were killed, while 21 Jordanians were lightly injured, Jordan's army said, according to the country's Petra News Agency.

Mulet, who was Annabi's predecessor in the Haiti post, said the U.N. headquarters building had been constructed in the 1960s with reinforced concrete, and was previously the Christopher Hotel.

Other U.N. installations in Haiti were also seriously damaged, Le Roy said, including the headquarters of the U.N. Development Program, where many people were wounded.

The U.N. logistical base near the airport and a U.N. hospital run by Argentine troops were damaged, but not severely, and the hospital was receiving people hurt in the earthquake, Mulet said.

The U.N.'s entire Haitian mission includes 7,000 peacekeeping troops, 2,000 international police, 490 international civilian staffers, 1,200 local civilian staffers and 200 U.N. Volunteers, Le Roy said.

The force was brought in after a bloody 2004 rebellion following decades of violence and poverty in the nation. Crime has since decreased somewhat, thanks to the U.N. troops' presence and the rebuilding of the country's own police force.

The U.N. force commander was out of the country on Wednesday, but the deputy commander was "on the spot" and coordinating rescue efforts, Le Roy said.

The U.N. was relying on satellite phones to reach its Haitian mission and relief workers, after the quake disabled regular communication networks. "That's part of the reason why it's hard to have a full picture of the situation," said Susanna Malcorra, the undersecretary-general responsible for staffing and equipping U.N. field-based peace operations.

The U.N. was trying to determine of the airport in Port au Prince was operational or if it would have to send relief supplies from across the land border with the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Meanwhile, the United States, Britain, France, Mexico, Venezuela, China and Taiwan were mobilizing assistance to quake victims. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was meeting with other U.N. officials to coordinate the response, and has spoken with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, his special envoy for Haiti, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Ban "is anxiously awaiting further news about missing U.N. staff and about the people of Haiti," the spokesman said.

In a statement earlier, Ban said, "My heart goes out to the people of Haiti after this devastating earthquake ... I am receiving initial reports and following developments closely."

Associated Press

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Earthquakes Haiti United Nations