Greek olive-branch ends Balkan feud

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The Independent Online


New York - All elements of an agreement ending a long-running dispute between Greece and Macedonia have been settled except for the name of the former Yugoslav republic, the mediator, Cyrus Vance, said yesterday.

"It is an agreement with crossed t's and dotted i's," the former US Secretary of State said. Mr Vance has been working for two-and-a-half years under UN auspices with a US negotiator, Matthew Nimetz, to resolve Greek objections that Macedonia's choice of a name and flag, and its constitutional provisions, imply claims against Greece's province of the same name.

He said the Greek Foreign Minister, Karolos Papoulias, and his Macedonian counterpart, Stevo Crevenkovski, would meet at the United Nations next Monday or Tuesday to complete the accord.

Asked whether an economic embargo Greece imposed on its northern neighbour in February 1994 would be lifted immediately after the agreement was concluded, he replied: "Yes."

The accord covered "a broad range of things," Mr Vance said, adding: "The name will be a subject for discussions which will continue past the signing of the agreement." He said he was "quite confident" the issue would not derail the agreement, which he hoped would "form the basis of future friendly relations between the parties."

The accord "covers such things as the question of the constitution, the question of borders, the question of the flag ... a host of other important issues which have been the discussion and debate over these 29 months," Mr Vance said.

Because of the dispute with Greece, Macedonia was admitted to the UN in April 1993 under the temporary name of "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." It is referred to in shorthand by the acronym "FYROM".

Asked whether he expected the name issue to be settled by the time the new General Assembly session opened on 19 September, Mr Vance replied: "I would not."

He noted that conflict was continuing in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. This had made it "very, very difficult to move things and to get them to the point where we are now. Just thank God we have gotten them to this point."

Asked whether the agreement would have any impact on the Yugoslav situation, Mr Vance said: "Lord knows we need something to steady down the situation in the former Yugoslavia. I can't prove that it is going to do that, but I hope that it will have a positive ameliorating effect."

"We always said we would lift the embargo if they [Macedonia] made concessions," the Greek government spokesman, Evangelos Venizelos, said. "We are happy [Macedonia's President Kiro] Gligorov made a decision of geopolitical importance."

The announcement was made a few hours after talks between the Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, and the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, who then flew to Skopje for talks with Mr Gligorov.

Talks between Athens and Skopje were interrupted in October 1993 after Mr Papandreou's Socialist Party won elections. The United States has been pressing Greece to lift the embargo as Macedonia depends heavily for raw materials and fuel on imports moving through the northern Greek port of Salonika.

The EU Commission took Greece to the European Court of Justice last year over the embargo but the court's final decision is still pending.