Syria; Mali; Sudan; World Mine Awareness Day; and more

Syria: Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy of the UN and the Arab League, is to brief the UN General Assembly (GA) via video link on Thursday on the latest developments in Syria, said the spokesperson for the GA president on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a UN planning team led by Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood will head to Damascus shortly, to discuss the eventual deployment of a UN supervision and monitoring mission, the UN announced Wednesday at its Geneva Office.

The U.N. Security Council said on Wednesday, via a Presidential Statement, that it was worried by al Qaeda’s presence in Mali and warned that Islamist extremists could further weaken security in the West African country where a military coup last month has bolstered a separatist rebellion.

In its statement Wednesday, the council said it “calls upon the rebels to immediately cease all violence and urges all parties in Mali to seek a peaceful solution through appropriate political dialogue. The council stresses the importance of the safety of civilians and of the respect of human rights.” The Council statement also called on all parties in Mali to allow timely, safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to civilians in need.

Sudan/S. Sudan:
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pleaded with Sudan and South Sudan today to withdraw troops and police from the disputed Abyei region amid international fears that repeated border clashes between the East African neighbors could escalate to war.

“The continued presence of unauthorized security forces within the Abyei area is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of constructive dialogue and mutual accommodation,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban said in a report to the U.N. Security Council on the situation in the Abyei over the past two months. “I would like once again to appeal to the government of Sudan and the government of South Sudan to withdraw their armed forces and police from the Abyei area,” he said in the report.

The United Nations envoy for Somalia has voiced outrage at today’s suicide bomb attack in the newly reopened national theatre in the capital, Mogadishu, which reportedly killed at least six people and injured scores of others.

According to media reports, the blast occurred during a ceremony to mark first anniversary of the launch of Somalia’s national television station, and was attended by various senior Government officials and representatives of civil society. The head of the country’s Olympic Committee and the chair of the Somali Football Federation were reportedly among those killed.

Agricultural and Rural Statistics:
The United Kingdom today signed an agreement with the United Nations food agency to donate $25 million to support a partnership program that will improve agricultural data available to governments and farmers in developing countries.

The FAO-led program known as the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics, will focus on improving governments’ agricultural statistical systems and will seek to identify innovative approaches to collect, analyze and disseminate data. This will include the use of digital devices with geo-referencing capabilities such as smartphones, GPS, and satellites.

World Mine Awareness Day
: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today highlighted the work of United Nations mine action personnel around the world in preventing landmines and unexploded ordnance from causing harm long after conflicts have ended, and transforming danger zones into productive land.

“Mine action programmes make an invaluable contribution to post-conflict recovery, humanitarian relief efforts, peace operations and development initiatives,” Mr. Ban said in his message to mark the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

The theme for this year’s Day asks people to “Lend your leg” in a show of support for landmine survivors, by rolling up their pant leg in a symbolic gesture of solidarity with landmine survivors across the globe that have lost limbs to landmines and unexploded ordnance.