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UN Mourns Personnel Lost in Haitian Quake

  • Margaret Besheer

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon faces flag that flew over UN mission in Haiti at memorial service in New York, 19 Jan 2010

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon faces flag that flew over UN mission in Haiti at memorial service in New York, 19 Jan 2010

The U.N. Secretary-General led staff in a ceremony at U.N. headquarters Tuesday to honor fallen colleagues that perished in the Haitian earthquake. At least 46 U.N. personnel working for the stabilization mission there have been confirmed dead. Officials say nearly 300 more are still unaccounted for a week after the disaster. The organization is trying to put aside its own grief so that it can help survivors.

A somber Ban Ki-moon paused in silence before a wreath of white roses and lilies placed beneath the U.N. flag that was flying over the mission's headquarters last Tuesday when the quake struck. Mr. Ban was given the flag when he visited the site of the destroyed compound during his trip to Haiti on Sunday.

The secretary-general and the hundreds of assembled staff and ambassadors paused for a moment of silence at 4:53 pm - the precise time last Tuesday when the earthquake struck.

UN staffers at candlelight vigil honoring UN victims from Haiti's earthquake, 19 Jan 2010

UN staffers at candlelight vigil honoring UN victims from Haiti's earthquake, 19 Jan 2010

Then they moved soberly outside into the courtyard, for a candlelight vigil, where the U.N. choir sang under an overcast sky.

The United Nations is used to being at the forefront of disasters, but this time they have also been its victims.

The U.N. mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, lost its chief, his deputy, and the acting police commissioner, leaving the mission without its leadership in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

Dozens more staff members were buried in the rubble and are still being recovered. Others, especially Haitian staff working for the U.N., are dealing with their own destroyed homes and missing or dead relatives.

In Haiti, Mr. Ban paid tribute to his U.N. colleagues. "You have lost treasured colleagues and dear friends. You have suffered yourselves in this gravest single tragedy in U.N. history. Yet you carry on. You are the best. We do not have to create U.N. heroes, we have only to look around. There are many heroes. I am proud to serve with you," he said.

In the midst of its own tragedy, the United Nations is working around the clock to coordinate a massive relief effort. The organization says 1 in 3 Haitians requires assistance and it is trying to remove logistical obstacles that are preventing the smooth flow of aid to them.

To that end, the Security Council has authorized an additional 3,500 peacekeepers and police to reinforce the Haitian mission and help with the relief effort.

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