BRUSSELS -- World leaders on Tuesday praised Richard Holbrooke as the "Bulldozer" diplomat who engineered the end of Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II and sought to bring stability to war-torn Afghanistan.
Even Holbrooke's main opponent in the 1990s-era war in Bosnia, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, expressed "sadness and regret" over his unexpected death on Monday following surgery for a tear in his aorta. Karadzic had been hoping to call Holbrooke to testify in his genocide trial.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen paid tribute to Holbrooke's legendary diplomatic skills, saying he played an essential role in the 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war and lauding his work an Afghanistan.
In a statement released Tuesday, Fogh Rasmussen said that, as President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan, Holbrooke realized "that we sometimes have to defend our security by facing conflicts in distant places."
Aides said Karzai considered the American envoy ignorant of Afghan culture and society. Perhaps as a result, Holbrooke played a less visible role in Afghanistan, with Sen. John Kerry taking the main role in convincing Karzai to agree to a runoff election in 2009 and to U.S. diplomats and military officers based in Afghanistan.
"We will always remember ... his efforts for promoting peace and stability in our region, with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude," Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in Islamabad.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the world should be grateful to Holbrooke for his contribution to the international strategy in Afghanistan.
"We regret with all our heart that he will not be able to witness the success of the new strategy," Westerwelle said in Brussels.
Holbrooke earned the nickname "The Bulldozer" after he bullied warring Serbs, Croats and Muslims to agree to end the Bosnian war with sometimes risky diplomatic overtures.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who served as an envoy to Bosnia in the early 1990s, said it gave Holbrooke many close friends, but also many enemies.
"Maybe he was modern diplomacy's proof that if you want to make an omelet, you have to beat some eggs. When he knew what he wanted -- and that was usually the case -- he was a remarkable fighter," he wrote in a blog post.
Bildt described Holbrooke as "truly a giant among diplomats of our time," and one of the best and the brightest."
Britain also brought tribute. "Richard Holbrooke's vigorous diplomacy helped to end the war, he helped to save lives and bring peace to a part of our continent racked by civil war and bitter conflict," said David Lidington, Britain's minister for Europe. "All Europeans are in his debt."
Karadzic, who is standing trial for war crimes at the international tribunal in The Hague, issued a statement through his lawyer saying he had been hoping to use Holbrooke as a witness.
After his surprise arrest on a Belgrade bus in 2008, Karadzic fought to have the case against him thrown out by claiming Holbrooke granted him immunity from prosecution in exchange for the Bosnian Serb leader dropping out of public life.
Holbrooke denied ever having cut such a deal and judges rejected the claim, saying that even if it existed, the deal would not be binding on the U.N. court.