EU holds back recognition of Belgrade

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The Independent Online
Yugoslavia, the rump state comprising Serbia and Montenegro, said yesterday that it planned to normalise relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but the European Union said this did not go far enough to merit full EU diplomatic recognition of Belgrade. "We have decided to wait until we can be sure of the situation," Germany's foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, said in Brussels.

He added that the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, had sent him a message underlining the US view that formal EU recognition of rump Yugoslavia would be premature. The US wants to make sure that Yugoslavia does not return as a full member of the international community until, among other things, it has improved its treatment of the ethnic Albanian majority in the southern province of Kosovo.

A statement issued in Belgrade said that the Yugoslav government had approved a draft treaty recognising Macedonia, and that the two countries would sign the agreement at a later date. If this were to happen, it would be a significant step to calming tensions in the southern Balkans, where Western governments have long feared the outbreak of a war involving as many as six countries.

However, in the EU's eyes, Belgrade's statement left important questions unanswered about the nature of the agreement with Macedonia, one of six republics that made up the former Communist Yugoslav federation. In the first place, it referred to Macedonia only by its capital, Skopje, indicating that the two countries have not yet agreed by what name Yugoslavia's southern neighbour should be recognised.

Greece, a close ally of Yugoslavia, opposes the use of the name Macedonia on the grounds that this indicates a territorial claim by the Skopje government on the northern Greek province of Macedonia.

The Yugoslav statement also failed to mention a continuing dispute over inheritance rights to the assets of former Communist Yugoslavia. The Macedonian authorities indicated yesterday that this issue remained unresolved and an obstacle to mutual recognition.

Lastly, it may be significant that the Yugoslav statement referred only to a "draft treaty" being approved by Belgrade. This suggests that Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, the most powerful Yugoslav leader, is leaving himself the option of revising certain aspects of the agreement with Macedonia.

The EU and the US have consistently pressed Mr Milosevic to extend diplomatic recognition to Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia, as this would indicate that he had formally given up hope of annexing parts of those three states to rump Yugoslavia. The 1991-95 wars in Bosnia and Croatia were sparked partly by the Serb ambition of creating a Greater Serbian state, while Mr Milosevic's long delay in recognising Macedonia has raised doubts over his intentions towards that country.