Salonika, Greece, 9 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Officials from seven Balkan countries today began a two-day meeting in Saloniki, northern Greece, aimed at forging closer political and economic ties.
Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos said the meeting is a historic moment for the Balkans, even if, he said, it is too early to talk about creating a common market in the region.
Pangalos also told his fellow foreign ministers that southeast European countries should assume responsibility for peace, progress and security in the region. He added that the process of European unification would not be complete without the participation of the southeast European countries.
Besides Pangalos, four other foreign ministers are taking part: Nadezhda Mihaylova of Bulgaria, Blagoj Handzinski of Macedonia, Adrian Severin of Romania and Milan Milutinovic of rump Yugoslavia. Albania and Turkey were represented by lower-leve officials.
Bosnia and Croatia only sent observers. An official (unnamed) at the meeting said those two countries were invited to participate fully but declined because, as they put it, "their countries are not part of this southeast region of Europe."
The two-day meeting also aims to ease tensions in the multi-ethnic region -- which peaked with the break-up of former Yugoslavia -- by establishing co-operation in information networks and promoting cross-border business investment.