UN's chief peacekeeper is found dead in Haiti hotel

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The Brazilian general in charge of United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti has been found dead on the balcony of his hotel suite with a bullet through his head. He was found wearing only underpants and a white vest with his pistol in his hand.

The general had been alone in his suite and suicide is presumed, according to UN officials and Haitian police. But in the land of voodoo spells and zombies, and more recently violent political and gang killings, the death of Generl Urano Texeira da Matta Bacellar, 58, has rattled the international community. He was described by colleagues as a very religious, happily married man with two children he adored, and a soldier used, in 39 years of service, to pressure far worse than he had seen in his four months in Haiti.

He apparently put his gun to his mouth, in the luxury hilltop Montana hotel used by senior UN officials, diplomats and international media, on the eve of what was supposed to be Haiti's crucial presidential and legislative election. A few days before he died, the elections had been postponed for the fourth time amid daily killings and kidnappings which have spiralled since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile under US pressure nearly two years ago.

General Bacellar commanded 7,265 troops of the UN Stabilisation Mission, known by its French acronym, Minustah, and comprising soldiers from 20 nations, the majority from Brazil and Jordan. They were deployed to restore security as supporters and opponents of Mr Aristide fought street battles in the wake of the ousted president's departure.

But General Bacellar and previous heads of the mission had been criticised by many Haitians for restricting the role of the UN troops, failing to root out corrupt Haitian police and demobbed Haitian soldiers, and declining to go into the seething slum areas of Port-au-Prince to flush out armed gangs behind the spate of kidnappings.

The slums are no-go areas for Haitian police. When UN troops have gone in, and even when they have not, they have suffered casualties - six dead last year alone, the last of them a Canadian soldier near the Cité Soleil slum, a pro-Aristide stronghold, just before Christmas.

Police say there are now 10 to 12 kidnappings a day on average, meaning Haiti has overtaken Colombia in the statistics. They usually involve ransom demands which may seem relatively small - thousands or tens of thousands of dollars - but those figures are a fortune in the poor Caribbean nation where most people earn less than 60p a day. Few people venture out of their neighbourhoods after dark.

As he sat on his hotel balcony at dawn on Saturday, General Bacellar may also have been pondering a general strike scheduled for today, in protest against what some political leaders call the "inactivity" of the UN mission and calling on the blue-helmeted troops to take tougher action against gunmen and kidnappers. The general had insisted that his job was to defend the Haitian constitution, but not to fight crime.

Yesterday, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said his troops would remain in Haiti despite General Bacellar's death. The UN appointed the general's deputy, General Eduardo Aldunate Herman of Chile, to take over.