Cyprus parliament rebukes UN envoy

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By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The Cyprus parliament on Thursday took the unusual step of rebuking a United Nations envoy over perceived bias that it says is hindering long-running talks to reunify the divided island.

Lawmakers unanimously approved a resolution decrying Alexander Downer's "one-sided and detrimental statements and actions" that they say have eroded his credibility as an impartial facilitator in the talks between rival Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Downer said last month that a peace accord needed to be reached before "Greek Cypriots" take on the "very heavy responsibility" of the European Union's rotating presidency in July.

The use of the term "Greek Cypriots" instead of merely "Cyprus" stirred up a hornet's nest because it was interpreted to be a deliberate attempt to diminish the internationally recognized government in the Greek Cypriot south of the island.

The remark was also interpreted as a bid to set a deadline to the three-year-old talks, which Greek Cypriots vehemently oppose.

The island was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. An independent state that Turkish Cypriots declared in the island's northern third 19 years ago is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps 35,000 troops there.

The resolution also said that Downer's latest remark comes on top of "numerous non-impartial...and dangerously interfering statements and actions that depart from his mandate." It added that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon needs to "urgently restore" his envoy's credibility.

Downer on Wednesday tried to play down the issue, telling reporters after meeting with Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias that the U.N. recognizes the government of the Republic of Cyprus which will take over the EU presidency.

Some politicians have called for Downer to be replaced, but government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou indicated on Thursday that Christofias wouldn't seek to do so.

Talks between Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu have been hobbled over disagreements on several key issues including power sharing and claims linked to private property lost during the invasion.

Ban met the leaders last month in a bid to overcome those differences, but said little progress was made. He said that he will schedule an international conference in April or May aimed at solidifying a peace deal if the sides make progress in the coming weeks.

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