Syria; Sudan; North Korea; Libya; and more

Syria: U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos said today that she was “deeply disappointed” that Syria has refused to allow her to the visit the country, where she had hoped to assess the need for emergency relief in besieged towns.

Amos said in a statement that the refusal came “despite my repeated requests to meet Syrian officials at the highest level to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence.” A senior Western diplomat added on condition of anonymity that Damascus’ refusal to allow Amos into Syria came “despite Russian efforts to get her access.” Amos’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also plans to organize a humanitarian conference on Syria on March 8 in Geneva, which might include an appeal for aid, envoys said.

Meanwhile, The United States has drafted an outline for a new Security Council resolution on Syria, this time to demand access for humanitarian aid workers in conflict-torn towns and an end to the violence there, Western envoys said on Tuesday.

Kofi Annan, who was named as the U.N. and Arab League special envoy for Syria, is scheduled to arrive in New York today for several days of talks with the Secretary-General and Member States. He will then depart for Cairo on Friday, where he will meet with the SG for the League of Arab states.

A peacekeeper serving with the joint UN-AU operation in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region has been killed after unidentified gunmen ambushed a patrol earlier today. Three other peacekeepers were injured in today’s attack, which took place about 4 p.m. near the town of Shearia in South Darfur state, according to the mission (UNAMID). Today’s killing means at least 36 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed as a result of hostile action since the mission took over from an earlier AU peace operation at the start of 2008.

North Korea
: The United Nations atomic watchdog has called today’s announcement by the United States about the results of its talks with North Korea over the latter country’s nuclear programme “an important step forward.”

North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities and nuclear weapons tests and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify compliance with these measures, while the US is providing the Asian country with supplies of food aid, according to media reports.

The top United Nations envoy to Libya today expressed confidence that the North African nation will be able to overcome current difficulties and pursue the path towards the goals it committed itself to when the popular uprising began a year ago. Speaking via videoconference from the capital, Tripoli, Mr. Martin noted that the country has begun implementing the framework for staging the first free elections in Libya in four decades. It adopted the electoral administration law as well as the main electoral law, and appointed the High National Electoral Commission.

Crucial to the successful conduct of elections is a “positive evolution” of the security situation, stated Mr. Martin. “The Libyan authorities well recognize that their foremost challenge is to address the future of the revolutionary fighters and the wide circulation of weapons, and to develop professional state security institutions under civilian control.”

UN backs hijabs in soccer
: A top United Nations official expressed support today for an initiative that would allow female soccer players to wear a headscarf, also known as a hijab, while on the field, stressing that every person should have the right to enjoy the world’s most popular sport regardless of their gender, race or religious beliefs.

On Saturday, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) is set to review the laws of the game regarding the use of headscarves by female players during its annual meeting, which will be held in the United Kingdom. The initiative was initially driven by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) Vice-President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein on behalf of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).