13 May 2003 16:52:10 GMT

Former U.N. agency chief Sadruddin Aga Khan dies

GENEVA, May 13 (Reuters) - Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, a former head of the United Nations refugee agency and U.N. humanitarian envoy to Afghanistan, has died at age 70, his office said on Tuesday.

Sadruddin was uncle to the current Aga Khan, Karim, who is spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Ismaili Muslims.

A spokeswoman at his Geneva office confirmed he had died, but declined to give further details.

Swiss news agency ATS reported Sadruddin died in a Boston hospital in the United States on Monday after a long illness.

Sadruddin, an expert in Islamic art, was also head of two Geneva-based environmental groups, the Bellerive Foundation and Alp Action.

Harvard-educated, he served as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 1965-77 and was coordinator for U.N. humanitarian and economic assistance in Afghanistan from 1988-90.

Last year, Newsweek magazine said Sadruddin made an unlikely "fire-breathing ecowarrior" with his "Iranian passport, American education, Geneva address and long career as a U.N. diplomat".

Among the honours and awards he received during his career were the French Legion of Honour and the U.N. Human Rights Award and the Dag Hammarskjold Honorary Medal.