Wednesday, August 27, 2008

UN secretary general tells Macedonia to focus on name issue

In a letter sent to Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski on August 19 2008, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon reiterated the world body's stance that the name issue that has been poisoning the relations bewteen Greece and Macedonia had to be solved first before turning to any other issues.

“I am aware there are other issues you think should be subject to discussion between Skopje and Athens. I hope that, by solving the name issue, the road to better relations will be traced, which will contribute towards handling these other issues, as well as finding possible solution of them,” Ban wrote, as quoted by website Balkan Insight.

Ban's letter comes as a reply to the letters that Macedonia's prime minister sent earlier this summer to the European Union, Nato and the UN, requesting that the issue of the Greek recognition of the Macedonian minority in Greece be discussed along with the name issue. Later, he also brought up other issues to be discussed on the sidelines of the name dispute, such as Greece recognising the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

However, Macedonian president Branko Crvenkovski slammed this move as counter-productive and following the last round of UN-mediated talks in New York City held last week, after meeting separately with both sides, UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz said that it was his responsibility to help resolve only the name row and that no other issues were to be discussed.

In spite of these developments, over the weekend of August 15-17, the speaker of Macedonian parliament Trajko Veljanovski again brought up the Macedonian minority issue in letters he sent to a number of states and organisations in Europe and around the world.

The name dispute between the two Balkan neighbours has been going on for 17 years now. It focuses on Greek demands that Macedonia change its name since its coincides with that of the northern Greek province. According to Athens, this implies Skopje's territorial claims towards Greece.

The climax of the name issue came in April 2008, when Greece vetoed Macedonia getting invited to join Nato at a summit of the military alliance in Bucharest. Since then, ties between the two have been exacerbated and now Athens is threatening to block the launch of the official accession talks of Skopje with the EU.

Nimetz is expected to visit Skopje and Thessaloniki on August 21 and 22, respectively, in a new effort to try and reconcile the two parties.

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