Syria; South Sudan; Afghanistan; WHO report; and more

Syria: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today marked the anniversary of the uprising in Syria by calling for an end to the ongoing bloodshed, which has claimed more than 8,000 lives since popular protests began a year ago, and for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Mr. Ban voiced his solidarity with the people of Syria and their legitimate aspirations to dignity, freedom and justice, and called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. He also urged the Syrian Government and opposition to cooperate with the efforts of the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, who put forward proposals to end the crisis during his meetings in Damascus, including with President Bashar al-Assad, last weekend.

Meanwhile, a joint team of Syrian, U.N. and Organization of Islamic Cooperation staff will begin visiting besieged Syrian towns this weekend to assess the humanitarian situation, U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos said on Thursday. The mission will be led by the Syrian government and the team would “gather information on the overall humanitarian situation and observe first-hand the conditions in various towns and cities,” Amos said in a statement.

South Sudan
: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has commended the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan for the progress they have made in talks aimed at resolving post-independence issues, including agreements reached on the status of citizens of each State and the demarcation of the border.

Mr. Ban also welcomed the planned summit between the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, and his South Sudan counterpart, Salva Kiir, to sign the agreements. He encouraged them to resolve all other outstanding matters urgently, making the compromises that will guarantee a peaceful and prosperous future for both countries.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan should place a greater priority on protecting human rights after Afghan security forces were accused of violations, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report released on Thursday.

The police groups need clear lines of accountability, command and control tying them to the formal forces – the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, Mr.  Ban said in the report dated March 5. He also said the U.N. mission in Afghanistan was monitoring detention centers after an October report by the United Nations accused the Afghan intelligence agency and police force of systematically torturing detainees, including children, at some jails in breach of local and international laws.

WHO/Tobacco deaths
: Tobacco use is responsible for five million or 12 per cent of all deaths of adults above the age of 30 globally each year, according to a United Nations report unveiled today, that for the first time provides estimated mortality rates attributable to tobacco for 2004, the year before the international treaty on tobacco came into force.

The new report by the WHO, entitled, “Mortality Attributable to Tobacco,” shows that five per cent of all deaths from communicable diseases worldwide and 14 per cent of deaths resulting from non-communicable illnesses among adults aged 30 and above were attributable to tobacco use.

: The UN envoy for Somalia has strongly condemned the suicide attack that took place yesterday at a government compound in the capital of the Horn of Africa nation. Media reports differ on the number of casualties resulting from the blast in Mogadishu at the entrance of Villa Somalia, the seat of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). However, several people are believed to have been killed in the attack, which the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for.

The Special Representative called on the TFG to provide assistance to the victims of terrorism and stressed the importance of strengthening the Somali national security forces. “The UN remains ready to continue its support to the TFG towards peace, stability and national reconciliation,” he added.