UN continues to natter on Syria
As speculation mounted over who will succeed Kofi Annan when he steps down as international envoy later this month, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for a "flexible UN presence in Syria" even after the mandate of the troubled observer mission he set up expires.

"A continued UN presence in Syria that goes beyond our important humanitarian work would allow systematic and meaningful engagement with the Syrian stakeholders, inside the country," the UN chief said in a letter to the 15 members of the UN Security Council.

"Furthermore, a flexible UN presence in Syria would provide the UN impartial means to assess the situation on the ground," he added. "The UN cannot discontinue its support."

The observer mission mandate is set to expire August 19, after the council voted last month to extend it for a "final" 30 days.

The mission -- originally 300 military observers and now reduced by half -- was deployed in April to oversee a peace plan, which should have begun with a cease-fire that never took hold. In mid-June, the observers suspended patrols as fighting intensified.

The Security Council is scheduled to debate the future of the UN mission on Thursday, but so far there is little consensus. The United States has been especially skeptical about prolonging the observers' mandate yet again. Syrian ally Russia is calling for an extension, saying the observers must continue monitoring the military situation.

Diplomats at the UN say veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, a former top League official, has been tipped to replace Annan but there has been no official word.
Posted by: Steve White 2012-08-13