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No sign of Downer at the talks

Downer: UK diplomatic appointment yet to be confirmed

By Jean Christou

CONSPICUOUS by his absence from Tuesday’s talks will be UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser Alexander Downer.

Despite the fact that there has been no official confirmation that the Australian diplomat is slated to be appointed his country’s High Commissioner in Britain, or that he is done with Cyprus, his absence can only serve to fuel the speculation. His place at the talks will be taken by UN Special Representative Lisa Buttenheim.

Only last month, Downer renewed his contract with the UN for another six months. This was around the same time that President Nicos Anastasiades said in an interview that Downer no longer enjoyed the trust of the majority of the political parties and of society. This, he said, raised doubts as to whether Downer had anything to contribute to the peace process. The president also implied that Downer lacked objectivity.

In response Downer postponed a planned visit and meetings with the two leaders and waited until Anastasiades left on a four-day visit to London before arriving on the island. He departed just before Anastasiades got back and hasn’t been seen since.

At the time Turkish Cypriot press quoted sources saying that was the ‘last straw’ for Downer.

However sources close to the talks said yesterday, that the UN envoy was still fully engaged on the Cyprus issue and had not lost interest. The joint statement that the leaders agreed was very much a Downer document and as the reigning special advisor very much a ‘win’ for him irrespective of what major power pushed it forward, the sources said.

The Australian diplomat would be issuing a statement after today’s leaders’ meeting and he was in touch daily with his staff at the Good Offices Mission, the sources said. They could not comment however on Downer’s longer-term plans. “It’s too early to say whether he is ‘out’ or not,” the sources said.

Today’s meeting is expected to be a fairly short affair – around an hour – after which the joint statement will be read out.

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