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Downer appointed as UN Cyprus envoy
Former Australian foreign minister takes job leading peace efforts on divided island.
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2008 11:27 GMT
Downer will quit as MP to assume a new post as UN special envoy to Cyprus [AFP]

Australia's former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, has been appointed as a special United Nations envoy to Cyprus, in charge of finding a lasting solution to the longstanding conflict on the island.

The announcement came on Tuesday ahead of talks between rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders aimed at ironing out disagreements that have held up talks on reunifying the island.

The two sides are meeting in the UN-patrolled buffer zone that has separated the island's two communities for more than three decades.

Downer was Australia's longest-serving foreign minister, holding the post from 1996 until his coalition government was defeated at elections in November.

He will quit his current post as an Australian member of parliament to take up the job as the special envoy of Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary-general.

In an interview with The Australian newspaper on Tuesday, Downer pointed to his experience as a diplomat in some of the world's major hotspots, but admitted that the job of uniting Turkish and Greek Cypriots was "not going to be a cakewalk".

"These things are always untidy. It's never easy to do. We ended the civil war in Bougainville [in Papua New Guinea]. We played our part in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why not try to fix up Cyprus as well," he was quoted as saying.

Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, said he had discussed the move during a conversation with the UN secretary-general late on Monday.

"We believe this is an important role for the United Nations, and we are completely behind Mr Downer's appointment," Rudd said.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkish forces invaded the island in response to a coup by Athens-backed supporters of union with Greece.

Talks on reunification talks have been deadlocked since 2004, when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification blueprint in a referendum.

The plan was accepted by Turkish Cypriots.

Source:
Agencies
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