Cyprus Mail

UN relations with palace strained

Rumours say that UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer opposes stepping up EU role in talks

By Stefanos Evripidou

RELATIONS BETWEEN the Presidential Palace and UN Good Offices appear to have soured over reports that UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer is trying to oppose Greek Cypriot efforts for a greater EU role in the peace process.

Breaking with tradition, the UN issued a strongly-worded statement yesterday effectively directed at the source of the reports, saying that spreading false information was an “unwelcome distraction” at this stage of the peace talks.

The rumours, first floated a few days ago, were that Downer had written a letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, telling him that enhancing the role of the EU representative to the peace talks might not help the process.

Asked to comment during the ‘OCHI’ ceremony on Monday, President Nicos Anastasiades replied: “No comment.”

Other politicians, however, were less reticent. House President Yiannakis Omirou said Downer’s presence on the island only encouraged the Turks’ intransigence, while EVROKO deputy leader Michalis Georgallas called for his removal from the peace process.

UN spokesman in Cyprus Michel Bonnardeaux yesterday released a statement refuting allegations in the press concerning the existence of a letter by Downer to Barroso.

The UN said it welcomed the EU’s participation in the talks and has “benefited from the regular presence” of Barroso’s personal representative at the talks, currently Pieter Van Nuffel from the European Commission’s legal service.

“The United Nations in Cyprus considers the dissemination of incorrect information particularly unhelpful at this stage of the talks. The resulting speculation constitutes an unwelcome distraction.”

The statement concluded: “The United Nations in Cyprus remains committed to assisting both parties in finding a lasting political solution to end the division of the island.”

Asked to comment on the UN’s rebuttal last night, Anastasiades said: “Again no comment.”

The government spokesman was not available for comment.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s Alithia cited diplomatic sources confirming the existence of a letter from Downer to Barroso on this issue.

The paper is expected to publish a report today, again citing diplomatic sources, saying that the letter in question was sent in the form of an email.

The Cyprus News Agency’s New York correspondent Apostolis Zoupaniotis argued on social media site Twitter yesterday that the view allegedly held by Downer on the EU’s role was actually first voiced by

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a meeting in September with Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

One diplomatic source told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that the notion Ban conveyed any hesitation, resistance or opposition to an enhanced role for the EU in the peace process was simply “untrue”.

Another source close to the talks said: “I am puzzled. This is the second major lie about Downer and they have both taken place under the current government. The first one was about him supposedly trying to upgrade the dinner when he and everyone else was bending over backwards to keep it low key.

“It makes you wonder if someone isn’t briefing Anastasiades with the intention of undermining the president in the eyes of the international community.”

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