WASHINGTON - Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to be named to replace Kofi Annan as the UN-Arab League joint special envoy for Syria barring a last-minute change, diplomats said on Thursday.

An announcement could come as early as next week but the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned that there are sometimes last-minute changes if a key government has concerns about the appointment or the candidate himself has misgivings.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have killed more than 15,000 people since March last year in a sustained effort to crush an anti-government rebellion, some Western leaders say. Damascus says rebels have killed several thousand members of its security forces.

Annan, a former UN secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said last week he would step down as the special envoy because he was unable to do his job with the UN Security Council's veto powers hopelessly deadlocked over Syria.

While the council united in April to approve the deployment of 300 monitors to observe a failed ceasefire as part of Annan's peace plan, Russia and China have vetoed three other resolutions criticizing Syria and threatening sanctions against Damascus.

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A former Algerian foreign minister, Brahimi, 78, has been a diplomatic troubleshooter for decades, having served as a UN special envoy for Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and South Africa.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is expected to formally name Annan's successor, was not immediately available for comment.

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