By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will step down on May 31, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday, blaming an international deadlock over how to end the three-year civil war in the country for hampering his bid to broker peace.
The veteran Algerian diplomat had long threatened to leave, just as his predecessor, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, did in 2012. Annan quit after six months as the U.N. and Arab League joint special representative on Syria, slamming the U.N. Security Council for failing to unite behind his efforts.
Brahimi is due to brief the 15-member Security Council later on Tuesday.
"It's not very pleasant for me. It's very sad that I leave this position and leave Syria behind in such a bad state," Brahimi told reporters after Ban announced his departure.
"Everybody who has responsibility and an influence in the situation has to remember that the question is how many more dead? How much more destruction is there going to be before Syria becomes again the Syria we have known," he said.
More than 150,000 people have so far been killed in the Syrian conflict. Some 2.5 million people have fled abroad, while 9 million people inside the country need help - including nearly 3.5 million who have no access to essential goods and services.
Ban praised Brahimi's perseverance in the face of "impossible odds, a Syrian nation, Middle Eastern region and wider international community that have been hopelessly divided in their approaches to ending the conflict."
"That his efforts have not received effective support from the United Nations body that is charged with upholding peace and security, and from countries with influence on the Syrian situation, is a failure of all of us," Ban told reporters.
The U.N. Security Council has been split on how to deal with the war in Syria. Syrian ally Russia, supported by China, has blocked three resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar al-Assad's government, threatened sanctions and called for accountability.
NEW ENVOY SOUGHT
Ban said he would work on finding someone to replace Brahimi. There are several possible candidates, diplomatic sources have said, among them former Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane.
"At this time, I have to think who should be the right person and at what time," Ban said.
Brahimi has organized two rounds of negotiations in Geneva between Assad's government and members of the opposition seeking to oust him.
While there were no breakthroughs at those talks, diplomats and U.N. officials said Brahimi had wanted to continue the Geneva process to find a negotiated solution that would end the fighting, launch a political transition and begin the process of reconciliation between supporters and opponents of Assad.
But Syria's announcement that it would hold presidential elections on June 3 dealt a severe blow to Brahimi's efforts. He said in March a vote would likely harm any bid for a third round of talks.
The election is widely seen as a bid by Assad to defy widespread opposition and to extend his grip on power.
The Security Council has adopted five resolutions linked to the Syrian conflict - one in February demanding greater aid access, which has effectively been ignored by the warring parties, three resolutions in 2012 to mandate a failed U.N. observer mission to Syria and one last year on the eradication of Syria's chemical weapons.
The Council could now vote within days on a French-drafted resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, a move that Russia opposes.
"There must be accountability for the terrible crimes that have been - and are being - committed. Such crimes include the deliberate starvation of communities by preventing humanitarian access," Ban said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Mirjam Donath; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jan Paschal and Bernadette Baum)