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22 UN Peacekeepers Confirmed Dead, UN Chief Says

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that 22 UN peacekeepers are confirmed dead in the devastating Haiti earthquake, and the death toll is expected to "be very high."

Ban told reporters that he can not confirm the reported death of Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, the head of the UN mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH. Edmond Mullet, a UN undersecretary general, is to assume full command of the UN mission. He is expected to arrive in Haiti at 2:00 PM EST Thursday.

Roughly 150 UN military personnel, police officers and civilian staff remain missing as 100 of them were likely in the headquarters building, the Christopher Hotel, when it collapsed, said Ban.

"I have the seen the image, it's terrible," he said.

Ban said that the nationalities of the confirmed dead will be issued by his spokesman later.

"The first 72 hours are very crucial" to save lives, he said, adding that rescue teams from such countries as China and the United States are conducting rescue operations on the ground, he said.

Also three French cargo planes filled with humanitarian aid have landed at the airport, said Ban, as well as assistance from the Dominican Republic.

"For saving lives, there is no demarcation between the international staff and the Haitian nationals," he said. "We are trying to save as many lives as possible."

So far, only one survivor has been found. Tarmo Joveer, 38, an Estonian body guard, was scratching at the debris piled above him, when he was found. He was given water through a rubber tube until rescue teams were able to extract him from four meters of rubble Thursday morning. Joveer is now in a mobile Argentinean hospital.

"It was a small miracle during a night which brought few other miracles," said Ban.

In its massive search and rescue effort, the UN is in desperate need of food supplies, clean water, tents, shovels, and heavy equipment, said Ban, adding that the world body has made an appeal for transport helicopters as well.

The UN has already released 100 million from its emergency fund and the head of UN Humanitarian Affairs John Holmesis expected to issue a flash appeal for more aid Friday afternoon.

With such chaos fears are beginning to arise that Haiti could fall to violence. But Ban said he was confident that the 3,000 UN peacekeepers stationed there as well as the 3,500 US troops to arrive later Thursday would be able to secure law and order.

"Clearly this is a major humanitarian disaster -- to hear those reports of suffering every hour, to see these terrible images on television, is very painful to all of us," said Ban.

(Xinhua News Agency January 15, 2010)

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