EC Summit: Skopje fears rebuff will raise tensions

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The Independent Online
BELGRADE - High hopes in Macedonia that the republic would win recognition at the Edinburgh summit were dashed at the weekend, after European Community leaders deferred to opposition from Greece.

In spite of a combustible internal ethnic situation, and increasing concern that the fighting in Bosnia could soon spread south to the vulnerable Balkan crossroads and ignite a general Balkan war, EC leaders decided against confronting Athens to support Skopje. Greece insists it has a monopoly on the word Macedonia and is demanding a change of name as the price of recognition.

The diplomatic rebuff followed a United Nations decision to despatch UN peace-keepers immediately to Macedonia. The 700- strong force will monitor Macedonia's vulnerable borders with Serbia, Greece, Albania and Bulgaria, in an attempt to prevent the disastrous example of Bosnia from being repeated in another former Yugoslav republic.

The result in Edinburgh was a blow for Macedonia's moderate President, Kiro Gligorov, who staked his considerable popularity last week on forcing Macedonia's parliament to debate a deeply unpopular proposal to alter the republic's name to appease Greek opposition.

While crowds of students and nationalists surrounded parliament and shouted abuse, Mr Gligorov appealed to deputies to put aside their national pride and place 'Skopje' at the end of the country's name, 'as a step towards compromise and an expression of goodwill'.

The gesture cost Mr Gligorov a lot and brought him little.

Greece, however, reiterated unmitigated opposition to the use of the word Macedonia in any context and the EC backed off, albeit promising financial aid. Lack of recognition has aggravated the existing ills of poverty and tension between ethnic Slavs and Albanians, who make up about one-third of Macedonia's population.

Fearing the worst, Macedonia's Foreign Minister earlier warned that if the Edinburgh summit went against the republic it would bypass the EC and appeal for recognition directly to the United Nations on Wednesday.

The UN last week responded to Mr Gligorov's call for peace-keepers after he claimed that the republic's sovereignty was threatened by Albania and Serbia. Part of the contingent of 700 will be drawn from UN forces stationed in Croatia.

In Edinburgh, EC leaders backed calls for the 'no-fly zone' in Bosnia to be enforced, following confirmation of reports that Bosnian Serbs infringed the UN ban more than 200 times. Earlier, Britain and France opposed calls for the flight ban to be enforced, citing the danger of Serbian reprisals against their troops serving in the UN force in Bosnia.

But the no-fly measure is no more than a cosmetic attempt to address Bosnia's worsening crisis. More crucial are suggestions that the US may support lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia. The embargo is the root cause of the Bosnian government's inability to defend its towns from Bosnian Serbs, who, although comprising only 31 per cent of the population, have overrun more than 70 per cent of the republic's territory.