CYPRUS, NORTH OF THE BORDER; Giles Milton Crosses the Green Line to Sample the Turkish Delights of an Island Where Old Enmities Are Thawing at Last

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Byline: GILES MILTON

WHY it is, I am not sure. But I have always had a thing about crossing from one country to another. It may be infant recollections of being on holiday in the Alps and being able to put one foot in France, another in Switzerland and my two hands in Italy. Maybe it is later memories of crossing the Iron Curtain, with its searchlights and sniffer-dogs.

Now I had come to Cyprus to cross the Green Line that divides this lovely island into the Greek south, destination for thousands of British holidaymakers, and the Turkish north, created after the split between the two communities in 1974.

The 80-mile Green Line, with its barbed wire, mines and UN peacekeeping patrols, includes a stretch through the heart of Cyprus's capital, Nicosia - the world's last divided city.

But at long last there is a glimmer of hope.

An internationally backed mission to reunify the island failed earlier this year: the Turks voted overwhelmingly to end their isolation and unite under the EU; the Greeks, equally overwhelmingly, rejected the idea.

However, the two sides did agree to open three new border crossings to allow vehicles to pass freely between the internationally recognised south and the north, which is recognised by no one except Turkey.

In theory, the British tourists who visit the Greek seaside resorts of Paphos and Larnaka can now hire a car for an excursion into the rugged Turkish interior where exquisite medieval monasteries cling to the wild peaks of the Troodos Mountains.

Indeed, many Turkish Cypriots are praying that tourists will venture further afield - to the picturesque fishing port of Kyrenia, to St Hilarion Castle and the Gothic abbey of Bellapais.

The most popular border crossing is close to Nicosia (the other two, at Beyarmudu and Akyar, lie between Famagusta and Larnaca).

Approaching the capital, the first thing you notice is a vast Turkish-Cypriot flag painted on a distant hillside.

Just as well, because in the Greek area there is not a single signpost pointing the way and nor are you likely to get much assistance from tour operators who are decidedly cool about you visiting the north. It took me half an hour of aimless driving before I stumbled across the frontier post called Kermia.

The Greek guards waved me through without bothering to check my passport - they do not recognise Turkish Cyprus, so they do not consider that you are visiting another country. The Turkish border post is rather more chaotic.

There are dozens of Turks waiting to cross and they have little notion of forming a line.

An elderly lady jabs me in the ribs, burly lorry drivers jostle to the front.

But I finally fight my way to the passport desk - only to be informed that I needed Turkish Cypriot car insurance.

Another queue, another jab to the ribs and then I am finally given my visa.

Hooray. I've made it. Well, almost.

I still have to cross a mile-and-a-half of no-man's land - barbed wire, sentry posts, rusting cars and signs warning you not to stray off the road and into the minefields. Then suddenly you are on Mehmet Akif Street, in the outskirts of northern Nicosia.

CYPRUS'S divided capital is an ancient city that retains scores of monuments from its long and troublesome history. …