The torpid pace and holiday atmosphere on this Mediterranean island are about to have a brief but strictly controlled interruption -- the arrival of 400 Palestinian guerrillas Sunday morning.
The boat carrying the guerrillas from Beirut arrived in Larnaca early Sunday and the fighters disembarked, Reuter reported.
It was hard to tell, however, that Cyprus, a divided nation that still bears the scars of its own ethnic wars, would soon be playing a significant role in the scheduled conclusion of the fifth Arab-Israeli war in 34 years.
Cyprus' president, Spyros Kyprianou, is playing no formal role and it is just as well. His presidential palace in Nicosia is besieged by scores of tractors -- part of a farmers' protest against the government's pricing policies.
The beaches just a mile from the harbor where the guerrillas are scheduled to disembark from the ferry Sol Georgios at 7 a.m. Sunday were packed with people this afternoon as the temperature rose into the high 90s. With the tourist season at its peak and most of Cyprus on a week-long holiday, the hotels in this port city on the southeast coast are jammed.
The Palestinians won't even notice any of this, however, if their Israeli-forced evacuation from Beirut goes according to schedule.
They are to be screened while still on their chartered ferry in the tiny harbor and then put onto buses for the 15-minute drive to the airport. They will drive right onto the tarmac and up to two Middle East Airlines jets to be flown to Jordan and Iraq.
Except for a number of wounded guerrillas to be hospitalized here, their presence in Cypriot territory should be only a matter of hours at most, but their transit will mark the beginning of the dispersal of about 7,000 guerrillas of the Palestine Liberation Organization to eight Arab countries.
For Cyprus there is a large measure of irony in helping in the conclusion of yet another destructive Middle East war.
This island, one third the size of Maryland, has seen its own destructive fighting. Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot residents have struggled for years over territorial control of this former British colony.
The peak of the Cyprus strife occurred in 1974 when the Turkish Army invaded and captured the northern two-fifths of the island, which 30,000 Turkish troops still control. The country's major port, Famagusta, was destroyed and since its predominantly Greek-Cypriot population was driven out it is a ghost town, its charred buildings now a miniature of the much greater devastation in Beirut where the two-month war caused monumental destruction.
Nicosia, like Beirut, has a Green Line and a no man's land produced by urban hostilities.
The suffering here has produced a flood of refugees--200,000 or almost a third of the island's population, according to Kyprianou's Greek Cypriot government.
The card of the owner of a taxi company bears the inscription "refugee from Famagusta."
Sporadic talks between the warring communities have been going on for eight years but just like the seemingly endless diplomatic efforts in the Arab-Israeli conflict, there has been little progress.
Both the Cypriot and Middle East problems have been the subject of countless United Nations resolutions and U.N. peace-keeping forces are stationed in both areas.
However, Cyprus has no oil and a small population--only about 640,000 people, 80 percent of whom are Greek Cypriots. It does not often make the headlines and after Sunday probably will not again soon, barring a renewal of hostilities.
A government information officer readily distributes to journalists flooding in for the one-day story a press kit with 15 pamphlets describing the plight of Cyprus.
Cyprus' role in the conclusion of the Beirut war will certainly help it get world attention. Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is arriving here Monday for talks and a holiday. President Petar Stambolic of Yugoslavia is also due here next week for a state visit--a rare event for Cyprus.
Cyprus has good relations with Arab countries and the Third World and receives support from them at the United Nations. A PLO representative is in residence here, but the country also has full diplomatic relations with Israel and air links to Tel Aviv.
Cyprus is at the crossroads of three continents and feels the tremors of any conflict in the area, Kyprianou said in a recent interview. Thus it took only brief talks between Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis and U.S. Ambassador Raymond Ewing for Cyprus to agree to provide transit for the PLO guerrillas.
The government only required assurances that the guerrillas would be in and out quickly and that their weapons would not provide a threat to security.
Earlier this year Kyprianou allowed Cyprus to be used as the site for an exchange of several hundred prisoners of war between Iran and Iraq. Two months ago, 600 Americans and their dependents fled the Beirut fighting to Cyprus.
The Sol Georgios has been chartered by the Red Cross to carry the 400 Palestinians for $15,000, paid mainly by the United States. That is less than $40 per guerrilla for the overnight ride -- a bargain price.
Sunday night the ferry resumes its regular passenger trips to Lebanon and the cabin rate will again be the customary $250 per person.