Former UN chief, alleged war criminal Waldheim dies

 

Former United Nations secretary-general Kurt Waldheim died today aged 88 after a short illness, the Austrian presidency said.

Former United Nations Secretary General and Austrian President Kurt Waldheim died in Vienna today, aged 88.
Former United Nations Secretary General and Austrian President Kurt Waldheim died in Vienna today, aged 88.

Austria's APA news agency said Mr Waldheim, a former Austrian president, had died of heart failure, citing Mr Waldheim's son-in-law.

Mr Waldheim was elected president of Austria in 1986, but his tenure was dogged by allegations that he was a Nazi war criminal or had knowledge of Nazi war crimes while he was in military service.

It emerged that Mr Waldheim had lied about his service as an officer in the mounted corps of the Sturmabteilung (SA). He had claimed he was wounded and had spent the last years of the war in Austria.

He was shunned in many countries during his presidency which last from 1986 to 1992. In 1987, he and his wife were banned from entering the United States.

The Austrian government appointed a commission to investigate the claims against Mr Waldheim. It concluded that he had knowledge of Nazi war crimes but did not participate in them.

FIVE FACTS ABOUR KURT WALDHEIM

- He was born at St Andrae-Woerdern, near Vienna, on December 21, 1918. He served 10 years as UN secretary-general (1972-81) after a career in the Austrian diplomatic service dating back to 1945.

- He was 19 when Germany annexed Austria into the Third Reich in 1938. His published accounts of his life had implied his career in the German army ended after an injury on the Russian front in 1941 and that he then devoted himself to studies in Vienna.

- In March 1986, however, the Austrian news magazine Profilpublished a copy of Mr Waldheim's military registration card with endorsements suggesting he had belonged to the Nazi Brownshirts (SA), Hitler's quasi-military strong-arm street fighters.

- His 1986 campaign for the Austrian presidency was marked by allegations, mainly from the World Jewish Congress in New York, that he had been involved in war crimes by Hitler's army in the Balkans. Mr Waldheim went on to become Austria's first  non-Socialist president since World War Two. His victory in the second round of the poll sparked a storm of protest outside Austria.

- In 1996, Mr Waldheim, in a long-awaited autobiography, conceded it was a mistake to conceal his Nazi war record in the Balkans but maintained his behaviour was above reproach. In The Answer, he recognised that failure to address his military record between 1942 and 1945 cast him in the role of political villain rather than elder statesman.