PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The Brazilian commander of UN peacekeepers in Haiti was found dead on the balcony of his hotel room yesterday in an apparent suicide, authorities said, a blow to the 9,000-strong force and efforts to restore democracy in Haiti.
United Nations officials and Haitian police swarmed the hotel where 58-year-old Lieutennant General Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar was slumped on a tile floor against the balcony.
A force from more than 40 countries force is attempting to restore democracy to the impoverished Caribbean nation two years after a rebellion overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, fighting gangs that still hold sway in the nation's sprawlings slums.
Security has been unraveling in past weeks, with a rash of kidnappings hitting the capital. International election workers, journalists, and ordinary Haitians have been among the victims.
Days before Bacellar's death, officials postponed national elections for the fourth time, blaming security problems and delays in distributing voter registration cards and setting up polling stations.
The elections had been planned for Jan. 8. No new date has been set, and it was not immediately clear what effect Bacellar's death would have on a new election timetable.
The United Nations named Chilean General Eduardo Aldunate Herman as the interim commander.
A senior UN official confirmed that Bacellar suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.
Secretary General Kofi Annan ''was shocked and saddened" by Bacellar's death and a full investigation was under way, the United Nations said in a statement.
Haiti's largest business association this week called for a general strike on Monday to pressure the UN mission to aggressively move against the gangs in the seaside slum of Cite Soleil. The gangs control Cite Soleil and stash their hostages there while seeking ransoms.
Bacellar succeeded Brazilianzilian Lieutennant General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, who had led the force since its deployment to Haiti, in September. Seven peacekeepers have been killed in action since the force deployed in June 2004. A Jordanian captain, the most recent victim, was shot on December 24.