Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Macedonia name row goes to the brink of NATO summit

Macedonia on Monday cancelled a parliamentary debate on changing the country's name, saying it had no guarantee the proposed change would satisfy Greece and clinch an invitation this week to join NATO.

Its decision takes the long-running Macedonia name dispute to the brink on the eve of a NATO summit in Romania on April 2-4, at which Croatia, Albania and Macedonia are to be considered for membership of the Western alliance.

NATO member Greece threatens to veto the invitation if the former Yugoslav republic does not change its constitutional name, which is the same as Greece's northernmost province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz has proposed "Republic of Macedonia (Skopje)".

Macedonia last week said it would let the national assembly vote on this proposal, for the first time in the 17-year dispute. But with no sign Greece would approve the compromise, the government said on Monday it would wait.

"Where is the guarantee that if we accept this proposal, we will receive an invitation to NATO?" a senior government official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

A government statement said it had concluded that any session of parliament would be held, if there were a need for it, "at the last possible moment, so that the legislature can be presented with the most actual and relevant information."

Greece is not satisfied with the "Republic of Macedonia (Skopje) and does not see it as suitable compromise.

NATO and the European Union are eager to see a solution to the dispute for the sake of stability in the Balkans.

Western diplomacy pulled Macedonia from the brink of all-out ethnic war in 2001, ending a six-month Albanian insurgency with the promise of greater rights for the country's 25-percent Albanian minority.

Macedonia borders Kosovo, where 2 million Albanians last month declared independence from Serbia with Western backing.

Macedonia uses its name in bilateral ties with many states, but is called "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" at the United Nations, and by NATO and the European Union. It split from Yugoslavia in 1991. (Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Douglas Hamilton and Jon Boyle)

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