- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

The United Nations’ civilian personnel and blue-helmeted military peacekeepers have faced deadly peril from the very first major mission the global body undertook more than a half-century ago.

The bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad on Tuesday that killed Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and at least 22 others only adds to a grim roster that includes an estimated 1,800 U.N. peacekeepers killed since 1948. An additional 221 U.N. civilian workers, relief specialists and administrators have died at their posts since 1992 alone.

U.S. Army Sgt. Lester Welling of Hampton, Va., became the first American to die in a U.N. peacekeeping mission when his jeep crashed near Jerusalem on Dec. 7, 1948. The U.N. force was dispatched to the region to quell the conflict between Arabs and Israelis after the declaration of an independent state of Israel.

Sgt. Welling was one of 53 American military and civilian police personnel who have died while serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions through 2002, according to the office of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

At least two American U.N. officials — Richard Hooper of the political affairs department and Martha Teas in the U.N. humanitarian affairs office — are listed among the victims of Tuesday’s attack.

Top U.N. officials still appeared stunned yesterday by the toll of the Baghdad attack, which targeted senior civilian employees working on relief and reconstruction issues — not security or peacekeeping chores.

“United Nations personnel have been targeted before,” acknowledged Secretary-General Kofi Annan while meeting with U.N. staff at a memorial service in New York.

“We have gathered all too often in recent years to mourn and remember fallen colleagues, but Tuesday’s attack was more deliberate and vicious than anything that has been directed at us hitherto,” he added.

The trademark white flags and blue helmets have never fully shielded U.N. personnel from danger, particularly in conflicts where one or both sides reject international intervention.

The 1948 Middle East mission brought the first assassination of a top U.N. official when a Jewish underground group gunned down Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, who was pushing a compromise plan that the extremists believed threatened Israel’s independence.

Mr. Bernadotte and a French U.N. observer were killed in the attack.

Dag Hammarskjold, another Swede and the second U.N. secretary-general, was killed along with 15 aides when his plane went down in still-mysterious circumstances while trying to broker a peace deal between warring factions in the former Belgian Congo in 1961.

The Congolese civil war, played out against the larger Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, proved a particularly bloody mission for the United Nations. An international force of about 19,000 troops was sent to the area, and about 250 U.N. peacekeepers were killed.

Such missions can be particularly traumatic for smaller nations that contribute soldiers to peacekeeping missions.

The loss of 17 Irish soldiers in the Congo mission — the first major overseas assignment approved by the Republic of Ireland government — remains a searing memory 40 years after the fact. Irish troops also took significant losses serving in the U.N. interim force dispatched to the tense Lebanon-Israeli border in 1978.

The United Nations last year awarded the first medals named for Mr. Hammarskjold, issued to honor those who lost their lives serving in U.N.-led peacekeeping missions.

Several nations have recorded higher casualties in U.N. missions than has the United States, including Canada (109), India (106), Ghana (94), Ireland (83), Britain (77), Sweden (64), and Pakistan (57). Nepal, with a population of 24 million, has lost 42 soldiers in U.N. missions.

Even relatively peaceful U.N. deployments have yielded casualties.

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