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UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has told the UN Security Council his Syria peace plan may be the "last chance" to avoid civil war as the government pursues attacks on civilians. Mr Annan gave a dire  assessment of the situation in Syria as he briefed the 15-nation council on his efforts to get president Bashar al-Assad to carry out his six-point plan.He said the level of continuing violence was "unacceptable", and the presence of UN monitors had only made attacks by government forces more "discreet".Diplomats in the closed meeting called Mr Annan's account a "sombre" assessment of the 14-month-old conflict. Mr Annan said Tuesday his plan is possibly "the last chance to avoid civil war", diplomats said. He told the council he planned to return to Damascus but stressed his peace bid was not an "open-ended" opportunity for the Syrian leader, who is battling an increasingly bitter uprising.The envoy reinforced his grim message about importance of his peace efforts to reporters in Geneva, from where he briefed the council by videoconference. "I am sure I am not telling you any secret when I tell you that there is profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are quite frightening," he said. "We cannot allow that to happen."

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said on Monday the international community is now in a "race against time" to head off civil war in Syria, where the UN says well over 9,000 people have been killed.Mr Annan said he was particularly concerned that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations are "intensifying", according to diplomats at the meeting. Even advocates of non-violence in the uprising against Mr Assad have been detained, he said.

Mr Assad bears "primary responsibility" for ending the military campaign and "creating an environment conducive to a political process" by withdrawing troops and heavy weapons from cities, he added.The UN Security Council agreed to send 300 unarmed military observers to Syria to monitor the cessation of hostilities but the death toll has continued to mount.The observer mission has an initial 90-day mandate running to mid-July, but the United States and other western nations have expressed doubts that it will be extended. Sixty-one observers are now in six locations in Syria, said a UN peacekeeping spokesman, Andre-Michel Essoungou, and more than 100 are expected by the end of the week. AFP

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