Syria: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the United Nations relief chief, Valerie Amos to visit Syria to assess the humanitarian situation in the Middle Eastern country, where a deadly Government crackdown continues against a pro-democracy uprising. Mr. Ban has asked Valerie Amos “to visit Syria to assess the humanitarian situation and renew the call for urgent humanitarian access,” the Secretary-General’s spokesperson told reporters today.

The Secretary-General was also scheduled today to meet with Nabil el-Araby, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, in London, where they are expected to discuss the latest developments in Syria and the way forward, including the appointment of a joint UN-Arab League envoy to handle the crisis.

Meanwhile, Russia said Wednesday it was working with the Syrian authorities, the opposition and regional powers to secure safe passage of humanitarian convoys.


Somalia:
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize an increase in the African Union force in Somalia from 12,000 to about 17,700 and expand its areas of operation in an effort to intensify pressure on al-Shabab militants who recently joined al-Qaida. As part of its strategy to weaken al-Shabab, the council also ordered a ban on the export and import of charcoal from Somalia, calling the fuel “a significant revenue source” for the militant group.

The council adopted the resolution on the eve of a conference on Somalia on Thursday in London, where senior representatives from more than 40 governments and international organizations are expected to adopt a new approach to the country’s myriad problems.


Iran:
The United Nations atomic energy watchdog has voiced disappointment at the lack of progress made during a two-day visit to Iran aimed at clarifying possible military dimensions to the country’s nuclear programme.

The agency had requested access to the military site at Parchin during both the first and second round of discussions. However, Iran did not grant permission for this visit to take place. In addition, “intensive” efforts were made to reach agreement on a document facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions. “Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document,” stated the agency.


Yemen:
The Security Council today welcomed the holding of presidential elections in Yemen and encouraged the country’s leaders to move on to the next stage of transition process as set out in the implementation mechanism of last year’s agreement designed to end civil strife. The Council congratulated the people of Yemen for the overall peaceful manner in which the elections were held and the encouraging levels of participation.

The Secretary-General said his Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, and his team are in the country “working closely with all Yemeni sides and international partners to support the implementation of the next steps of the transition roadmap, including the National Dialogue Conference and the subsequent constitution-making process.”

Warring factions in Yemen signed an agreement in November on a transitional settlement under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand over power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, the sole candidate in yesterday’s presidential election.


New senior appointments:
SG Ban Ki-moon has appointed several senior officials to the United Nations agencies spearheading efforts on the development and population fronts. Kate Gilmore of Australia has been appointed as one of the two Deputy Executive Directors of UNFPA, succeeding Purnima Mane.

Sima Sami Bahous will replace Amat Alsoswa as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at UNDP.  Jens Wandel of Denmark has been appointed as UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau of Management, replacing Akiko Yuge. Meanwhile, fellow UNDP veteran Ayse Cihan Sultanogu of Turkey has been appointed as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States at the agency. She will replace Kori Udovicki.


Lebanon:
 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has extended the mandate by another three years of the United Nations-backed independent tribunal set up to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Mr. Ban extended the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is based in The Hague in the Netherlands, by three years from 1 March this year, according to information released by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson. The spokesperson also noted that the Secretary-General reaffirms the UN’s commitment to support the efforts of the STL to uncover the truth behind the bombing so as to bring those responsible to justice and to send a message that impunity for such major crimes will not be tolerated.

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