Richard Holbrooke, architect of Dayton Accords, dies

14/12/2010

Richard Holbrooke, considered the "father" of the agreement that ended the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, passed away in Washington.

(Various sources - 13/12/10 - 14/12/10)

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US diplomat Richard Holbrooke passed away Monday. [Reuters]

Prominent US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, best known in the Balkans and the rest of the world, perhaps, as the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, died Monday night (December 13th), on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the signing of the agreement.

Holbrooke was taken to hospital on Friday after falling ill during a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He was diagnosed with a torn aorta and underwent a 21-hour surgery that ended on Saturday. He remained in critical condition after a second round of surgery on Sunday, and passed away the following evening at the age of 69.

According to The Washington Post, the last time Holbrooke spoke was before his last operation.

"You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan," the paper quoted him as telling his Pakistani surgeon on Sunday.

US President Barack Obama, who appointed Holbrooke as his administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009, praised him as "a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer and more respected".

"He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace," he said in a statement.

"America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants," Clinton said in a statement. "Richard Holbrooke served the country he loved for nearly half a century, representing the United States in far-flung war-zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination. He was one of a kind -- a true statesman -- and that makes his passing all the more painful."

Holbrooke joined the state department as a foreign service officer after graduating from Brown University in 1962. He worked for three years in Vietnam and joined President Lyndon Johnson's White House staff in 1966, becoming a junior member of the delegation at the Paris peace talks.

Holbrooke, who worked for every Democratic president since the late 1960s, was appointed assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs in 1994, at the height of the conflicts that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

In 1995, the blunt-spoken diplomat headed the international negotiation team tasked with resolving the crisis in the Balkans. Holbrooke shuttled among Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo until he persuaded the principal leaders there to agree to peace talks. His efforts to broker a deal to end the bloodshed succeeded on November 21st 1995.

After weeks of tough negotiations, then-Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and the presidents of Croatia and Bosnia, Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic, finally accepted the proposed agreement in Dayton, Ohio. The three then officially signed the Accord in Paris on December 14th 1995.

Holbrooke was later involved in international efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo.

Bill Clinton, who was US president during the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s, praised Holbrooke for his "passionate, brilliant service," saying he "saved lives, secured peace, and restored hope for countless people around the world".

"Tomorrow marks the 15-year anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords -- the agreement Dick negotiated which stopped the killings in Bosnia and paved a path to peace in the Balkans that endures today,"Clinton said on Monday.

In 1999, he nominated Holbrooke as the United States' ambassador to the UN. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a special statement Tuesday, saying he was "deeply saddened" by Holbrooke's death.

"I pay tribute to his diplomatic skills, strategic vision and legendary determination," he said. "As the architect of the 1995 Dayton Agreement, Ambassador Holbrooke played a key role in ending the war in Bosnia, the most terrible tragedy on European soil since World War II."

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A number of world leaders and senior international officials also praised Holbrooke for his compassion, his diplomatic skills and superior strategic judgment.

His "vigorous diplomacy helped to end the war [in BiH], he helped to save lives and bring peace to a part of our continent racked by civil war and bitter conflict," David Lidington, Britain's minister for Europe, said. "All Europeans are in his debt."

Speaking to the CNN on Tuesday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari described Holbrooke as an "extremely hard-working man" who could "get things done, which would otherwise take weeks to get through".

Speaking about Holbrooke, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was quoted as having once said: "If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just say yes. If you say no, you'll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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