Beach Hotel Thrust Into Spotlight Again

Sun, fun, Palestinian radicals and U.N weapons inspectors preparing to confront Saddam Hussein. Stressed-out holiday-makers beware: The Flamingo Beach is no ordinary hotel.

"I am trying to keep everyone happy, but sometimes it's not easy," manager Antonis Josephides concedes, when asked about the wild mix of guests his hotel has hosted over the past six months.

While other beach-front hotels are now less than half occupied, most of his 65 rooms are booked either by the U.N. weapons inspectors flying from here to Baghdad on Monday or the gaggle of reporters and TV crews gathered to watch them go.

It's the second stay in the Flamingo in six months for some of the journalists. They first converged on the three-star hotel in May to cover the nearly two-week stay of 13 Palestinian radicals deported by Israel at the end of their siege at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

Now, as then, the frenetic activity in this quiet corner of the island leaves "normal" hotel guests bemused.

"We were hoping for a few quiet days at the end of the season," said Vladimir Holjevac, eyeing the media mob gathered on the hotel terrace in disbelief.

From cold, damp Hamburg, Germany, Holjevac and his wife Snjezana were among the postseason stragglers squeezing a few more quiet weeks of sun out of the year when the first taxis began arriving packed with cameramen and their equipment.

"It's not what we paid for, but we don't mind," Snjezana Holjevac said as she eyed a camera set up for mock shots as a run-up to Sunday's arrival of the chief inspectors. "We're not shy."

Norma Joseph Karin, a TV reporter for the Beirut-based LBCI network who was also here covering the Palestinians, remembers that story as "more exciting, because things were happening here, whereas this time Larnaca is only a jump-off point and the real events will take place in Baghdad."

Unlike the Palestinians, who were confined to their rooms and guarded by heavily armed Cypriot police, the U.N. inspectors here roam freely. But for the media trying to talk to them, the inspectors might as well be under lock and key.

"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies," a burly man in a U.N. T-shirt said as he waved off a reporter. He refused to identify himself.

The air of secrecy is nurtured by Josephides, a discrete 39-year old.

Asked Saturday why the inspectors were staying at the Flamingo Beach, Ewan Buchanan, the spokesman for chief inspector Hans Blix, said the hotel's proximity to the airport probably dictated the choice. But one U.N. official, who asked for anonymity, said the hotel was picked partly because of Josephides' reputation for keeping things to himself.

Asked if his reputation helped him secure the U.N's business, and the deal to house the Palestinians, Josephides smiled.

"Confidentiality and reliability was a major factor," he said. "Sometimes I want to share things but out of commitment to the people who trust me, I don't do it."

That discretion keeps him from discussing the unpleasant aspects of having his hotel in the world's focus. His employees say it isn't easy juggling the differing needs of ordinary guests and the special visitors.

"When the Palestinians were here, we had a lot of complaints, people were worried about the police with the guns," said one hotel worker who asked not to be named. "Now, we don't have such problems, but we're busy — too busy."

Tracy McKeon is a good example. Normally Josephides' accountant, she's been doubling as a waitress, serving up double espressos to the news crews hanging out on the patio overlooking the waves lapping the shore and the few hardy Brits still swimming among them.

"It's one way of meeting people," says McKeon, 40. "Normally I'm hidden in a back office."

But a few minutes later, even she has had enough.

"I'm going for a coffee and a cigarette right now, before anyone else makes demands on me," she said, disappearing toward the direction of the kitchen.

Josephides remains unruffled — and ambitious.

He says his greatest wish is for the inspectors to pull out permanently after a successful mission that reduces the threat of war. But having tasted fame, he hopes his hotel will once again shine.

"Signing a world peace treaty, here, in this hotel," he says. "That would be something worthwhile to aim for."