Good intentions at Balkans summit

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Protagonists in some of the Balkans' bloodiest and most ancient feuds began a first ever regional summit yesterday with a flurry of signals of peace and reconciliation - but with no guarantee that these would translate into a lasting outbreak of brotherhood between them.

Opening the two-day encounter in Iraklion, Crete, the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, urged his colleagues to "overcome the past and define our future together", while Mesut Yilmaz of Turkey, Greece's sworn foe, spoke of the need to "leave behind nationalism and animosity" so that the Balkans could shed its bloody image once and for all.

The first decisions of the summit built on these good intentions included an agreement to hold a second such gathering in Turkey in 1998, as well as regular ministerial meetings and a concerted effort to reduce trade barriers. But the very structure of the meeting pointed to the practical difficulties ahead.

The summit has no agenda, because none could be agreed. The leaders of Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia and Macedonia were present. But Croatia and Slovenia ignored the gathering, while Bosnia, ripped apart by conflict between 1992 and 1995, was represented by a deputy foreign minister.

Its success will be measured at least as much by two bilateral meetings on the summit sidelines as by what happens in the plenary sessions.

In the first, the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, was discussing with the Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, the worsening tensions in Kosovo province, where the anger of the ethnic Albanian majority at Mr Milosevic's policies appears about to explode.

Last night, meanwhile, Mr Yilmaz and Mr Simitis met for the first Greco- Turkish summit on Greek soil in nine years, in the hope of reducing frictions over Cyprus and the eastern Aegean. After some conciliatory remarks by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, diplomats nourished cautious hopes last night that at least the non-aggression pact brokered by the US at July's Nato summit in Spain could be revived.

Since then, matters have gone from bad to worse, culminating in October's reciprocal buzzing of planes carrying the two countries' Defence Ministers to and from visits to the Greek and Turkish portions of Cyprus. - Rupert Cornwell