Balkan foes opt for jaw, not war

Balkan leaders wrapped up an unprecedented regional summit yesterday, pledging to replace confrontation with co-operation. Rupert Cornwell assesses the outcome.
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The Independent Online
More important perhaps than the paucity of concrete results from the meeting was the fact it took place at all. For two days at least, Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, even Bosnia, put aside bitter enmities and promised to work together to advance the cause of stability and shared prosperity.

The closing declaration reads like an international diplomatic wish-list, with calls for respect of territorial integrity, rights of minorities, and for quarrels to be settled by non-violent means - principles mostly honoured in the breach during centuries of war and civil conflicts across the region. It also urges joint moves to fight crime and improve communication and transport links.

Summing up the outcome of proceedings, the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, acknowledged the difficulties: "Our countries still have problems, some small, some large," he said. "But in time, we hope, we'll come together."

So much was evident as well from the two most closely watched bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit in Iraklion, Crete - between Mr Simitis and his Turkish opposite number, Mesut Yilmaz, and between President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and the Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano.

Though both sets of talks seem have been relatively friendly and constructive, neither produced specific recommendations to ease the age-old hostility of Greece and Turkey, currently focused on Cyprus, or defuse the grievances of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo against Belgrade's oppressive rule of the province.

Not could the summiteers agree on how and where to set up a mooted Organisation of Balkan States along the lines of regional groupings in the Americas, Africa, and South-East Asia. Cost was one hurdle - another was the rivalry between Greece and Turkey to play host to the body.

An even starker reminder of reality was provided by the Turkish military exercises yesterday in Turkish northern Cyprus. Ignoring pleas by the US to postpone them until after the Simitis-Yilmaz meeting, Ankara insisted the manoeuvres were essential to counter a military build-up in the Greek south of the divided island.

"They want the military power to seize the whole of Cyprus," Turkish officials said, "but Turkey has the power to confront every kind of threat."

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