Gradual warm-up and talks in sight for Turks, Greeks on divided Cyprus

Gleaming white under the Mediterranean sun, the beachfront high-rises of Varosha curve along the Cyprus shoreline for more than a mile. Varosha is probably the poshest ghost town in the world. It is off-limits to everyone but Turkish soldiers on patrol.

Except for the toll that sand, weather, and lack of maintenance have taken, the once-bustling resort city is the same today as on the day Greek Cypriots abandoned it in August of 1974. The red crescent-and-star flag of Turkey flutters over a nearby statue of Kemal Ataturk.

Deserted Varosha symbolizes the bitter, costly division this little island has suffered during the 20 years it has been independent from Britain. But Varosha also may be the point around which Greek and Turkish Cypriots begin to work out their differences in the next few months.

"It is like a ripe banana in front of the Greek Cypriots," Unal Ersoy, a Turkish Cypriot official, says as we view Varosha from outside the ancient Venetian city of Famagusta, just up the coast. "It is waiting for them, if they really want to talk."

What is becoming ever more apparent is that the Greeks and Turks are inclined to do just that -- talk. And not just in Cyprus, but elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This is an improvement that few diplomats and political experts are willing to let pass unheralded.

After years of acrimonious division, both the nations of Turkey and Greece, as well as their respective little brothers in Cyprus, seem to agree that nothing is served by keeping up hostilities.

In the past two months, chilly relations between Athens and Ankara have warmed considerably. In October, Turkey cleared the way for Greece to return to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, from which Athens withdrew in protest over Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus. The invasion was in response to calls from minority Turks on the island who felt imperiled by a coup by forces seeking union of Cyprus with the Greek mainland.

On Dec. 13, Greek and Turkish foreign ministers met at the end of a NATO conference in Brussels and reaffirmed their nations' commitment to settle problems between them. The question of Aegean Sea airspace and offshore drilling rights will be the next important focus for the two eastern Mediterranean nations, Western analysts believe.

While the Cyprus problem is not at the top of the list, Athens and Ankara realize differences such as Cyprus are "disincentives" to their relations with each other, as well as with Europe and the United States.

Although Greek and Turkish Cypriots have frequent contact with their bigger-power patrons, and military forces from both nations are stationed in Cyprus, past policy from Ankara and Athens has been to let the Cypriots work out their differences with a minimum of backstage prompting. Still, the atmosphere of rapprochement seems to have caught on in Cyprus.

The latest round of intercommunal talks recessed recently after three months of work. Delegates from both sides are reported happy that communication between the two communities now has been formalized through the talks.

"We have opened a new chapter by sustaining the intercommunal talks," Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis told the Monitor. "The results are minimal, nothing spectacular, but we didn't anticipate agreement on all points. I believe, however, that we have replaced an atmosphere of animosity with an atmosphere of cordiality."

M. N. Munir Ertekun, a high-level Turkish Cypriot involved in the negotiations, agrees: "The mere fact that the talks have gone on is a good sign. It shows there is no alternative to them."

At the popular level, one finds similar optimism. But memories of past violence and dislocation seem too vivid to promise a mixing of the two populations again soon.

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