The Cyprus split widens. Reunion of Greeks, Turks seems ever more distant on this strategic island

The Greek-Cypriot taxi driver, without taking his eyes off the road, nonchalantly points at the hills to the east on the way from Larnaca to Nicosia.

About a half mile away, at the top of a dusty hill, sat a guard post surmounted by the Turkish flag, snapping in the brisk afternoon wind.

''There they are,'' he remarks, adding after a brief pause, ''and there they will probably remain.''

''They'' are the Turks.

''You are a journalist, are you not?'' he continued. ''When you leave, write just one thing: Tell the world that we will never see our homes again unless the Americans stop helping the Turks.''

It was an appropriate introduction to Cyprus.

July 15 will mark the 10th anniversary of the overthrow, engineered by Greek Army officers, of Cyprus's late President Archbishop Makarios. Five days later, Turkey invaded. These events ripped the island in two and introduced an element of instability on NATO's eastern flank.

A decade has in no way erased the sense of loss that followed the coup and the invasion that sent 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the north - nearly a third of the country's total population - flooding to the south.

Much has changed over the past 10 years as both sides have sought with varying success to rebuild their lives. But a solution that would reunite the country and rid it of foreign military forces seems more distant than ever.

Last Nov. 15, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash unilaterally declared an independent Turkish-Cypriot state in the north of the island, despite virtually universal international condemnation of the move. He has set dates for a referendum on a new constitution (Aug. 19) and general elections (Nov. 4) and threatened to open part of Varosha, a deserted Greek-Cypriot suburb of Famagusta , ''which in no way will be given to Greeks, but to our people,'' Mr. Denktash said in an interview.

''Having condemned us,'' Denktash complained, ''how can you (the United States) ask a condemned man to stop breathing, to stop eating. . . . You condemned me outright, you cut all contact with me, you pronounced the Greek Cypriots are my government.

''The United States of America decides who can rule whom, from a distance. And you give my aggressor for 21 years, you give the Greek Cypriots the right to continue their aggression against me.''

The Greek Cypriots are no less bitter. For 10 years the recognized government of Cyprus has fought for international support to pressure Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot community to accept a solution that would establish a nonaligned , independent, and demilitarized state within the framework of a new federal system, with a single government and open human and economic relations.

Cyprus's Greeks can boast a thick sheaf of resolutions from the United Nations, the nonaligned movement, the Council of Europe, the European Community, and other international bodies, as well as expressions of support from most of the countries in the world. Yet these are no more than paper victories, as the passage of time and the accumulation of events seem to make any solution more difficult to achieve.

''One should not be surprised that all these years of negotiations, and contacts, and initiatives, and efforts have failed,'' says Cypriot President Spiros Kyprianou. ''It's simple: We have been working for the reunification of the country, they have been working for the division of the country. . . .

''So, there is a necessity for a radical approach by the international community . . . especially by countries which are in a position to exercise more influence on Ankara because of their special relationship, and I am referring to the Western countries and in particular the United States.''

And so the Cypriot government, backed by Greece, has launched new efforts to secure international condemnation of Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot community and has hinted it might ask for UN sanctions to back the words. More worrisome, Greek Cypriots now talk of strengthening their defenses, even perhaps asking Greece to send troops to the island to counterbalance Turkey's military presence.

''A Greek presence in Cyprus will ensure that the time element will no longer be a positive tool within the hands of Turkey,'' says Socialist Party leader Vassos Lyssarides, ''because the passage of time will then consolidate both the Turkish and Greek presence.''

But such a move might well lead to a Turkish reaction, and perhaps to open war between two NATO countries, Greece and Turkey. The stakes for the US and the Western Alliance in general are clear.

''Greece and Turkey are essential for Western control of the eastern Mediterranean,'' a Western diplomat said. ''A quick look at the map will show you that Greece borders on Albania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Turkey borders on the Soviet Union. Both maintain large armies and spend a great deal on defense. The Aegean is dotted with Greek islands. Turkey also borders on Iraq, Syria, and Iran, which makes it an important factor in the Middle East. It also controls the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits and the whole southern coast of the Black Sea. Need I say more?'' Also, Britain maintains two large bases on 99 square miles of sovereign territory on Cyprus, as well as 32 smaller stations. Cyprus was the only country in the area to allow the Americans to use Cypriot territory to supply their peacekeeping forces in Beirut, until late last year when Turkey agreed to a similar arrangement.

Independence has been the exception in the long history of this nation. Its strategic position has made it an irresistable lure for large powers from both East and West.

When Cyprus became independent from Britain in 1960, many Greek Cypriots were deeply disappointed, as they had aspired to enosis, the union of Cyprus with Greece. This aspiration was at the core of the intercommunal strife that began three years later.

The 1974 coup was aimed at achieving enosis and ridding the island of the ''red priest,'' the name used by officials in Athens and Washington for President Makarios because of his cordial relations with the Soviet Union. Today , with a decade of struggle behind them, no Greek Cypriot even talks of enosis.

''It can never happen, we do not want it. We are Cypriots,'' said one Greek-Cypriot official.

The Turkish invasion established a Turkish-Cypriot sector in the northern part of the island - 38 percent of the territory - which before 1974 included most of the country's productive capacity. It is populated by the 120,000 Turkish Cypriots, approximately 20,000 settlers from Turkey, and 20,000 to 35, 000 Turkish soldiers. South of the ''green line'' - which cuts across the country and divides the capital, Nicosia - live the 530,000 Greek Cypriots, including 200,000 refugees from the north.

''Do you think we would have the same problems if we were somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic?'' asked Polivios Kolocos, deputy secretary-general of the centrist Democratic Party of President Kyprianou, adding, ''We must make people understand just how important our location is, that Cyprus is a very big bomb in this NATO area that can produce a very big bang.''

''The combination of ideas for a settlement is readily available,'' said a Western envoy, ''but the ideas it would take to solve the problem are in a sense so gigantic that the two sides find it difficult if not impossible to move.''

In a united country the Turkish Cypriots demand a federal government in which they possess not only equal rights, but also equal power.

''We want an honorable solution for both communities,'' says Oktay Oksuzoglu, a Turkish-Cypriot spokesman, ''but we must not be reduced to second-class citizens again, so we can feel happy and secure here.''

The vast majority of Greek Cypriots consider this demand unacceptable.

''For 5,000 years this has been a Hellenic island, and 80 percent of the population today is Greek Cypriot,'' Mr. Kolocos said. ''In what democracy do the 18 percent have the absolute veto over the 80 percent?''

The Turkish Cypriots say that a solution along the lines proposed by the Greek Cypriots would not ensure their security and would lead to a renewal of the intercommunal bloodshed that characterized the 11 years before Turkey invaded.

''I'm married and have two children. I do not want my children to be oppressed refugees like I was,'' declared Mustapha Kortun, a Turkish-Cypriot journalist.

Turkish Cypriots demand that the new Cyprus be a federation with two autonomous states, a weak central government, and strictly controlled human and economic contacts. They also dismiss Greek demands that Turkish troops be withdrawn from the island immediately, insisting that they will be needed to ensure the security of the Turkish Cypriots for the foreseeable future.

Each side has accused the other of intransigence and has altered its policy accordingly, the Greek Cypriots by ''internationalizing'' the issue and the Turkish Cypriots by declaring independence. Both sides are bitter toward the US. The Greek Cypriots say the US has not exerted real pressure on Turkey. The Turkish Cypriots condemn US attention to the Greek lobby and attack the recent vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to withhold aid from Turkey pending progress toward a solution. But the US is either unable or unwilling to act, depending on who expresses the opinion.

''We can only offer our strongest support for the UN Secretary-General's mediation efforts,'' a US diplomat says. ''Pressure on Turkey has proven to be ineffective. Greek Cypriots still believe in US pressure but are beginning to realize we will not do it. Why should we? No way we are going to sacrifice Turkey.''

Denktash seemed to support that view when he attacked the Senate committee vote: ''If the Senate can say to my protector, but for whom my people would have been destroyed, 'You have to withdraw your soldiers from there and Denktash must give Varosha, otherwise your aid is cut,' then I think the whole thing should come to a full stop.''

Greek Cypriots express frustration and disappointment. They are frustrated because when Congress has voted to apply pressure, the US administration has fought against the measure, thus destroying its effectiveness, they say.

They are disappointed because the US has done nothing to back up its condemnation of Denktash's declaration of independence.

''We were promised that they (US officials) will in their own way help toward reversal of the situation,'' Kyprianou says.

Despite the modernization and economic prosperity that has come to the south since 1974, Greek Cypriots feel like refugees in their own country, permanently threatened by the Turkish military presence in the north and powerless to alter a situation many believe is maintained by the great powers, in particular the US.

And despite the sense of security the Turkish Cypriots now enjoy, a decade of virtual isolation from the world has spawned a new kind of insecurity - economic stagnation and the denial of identity and real independence.

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