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UN Mediator Heads To Greece, Macedonia To Discuss Name Dispute


Matthew Nimetz, the personal envoy of the UN secretary-general regarding talks between Greece and Macedonia
Matthew Nimetz, the personal envoy of the UN secretary-general regarding talks between Greece and Macedonia

A United Nations mediator is traveling to Greece for two-day talks on ways to resolve a 27-year-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

Matthew Nimetz, the UN envoy dealing with the matter, is set to meet with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in the early afternoon on January 30, according to a statement released by Greece's Foreign Ministry on January 29.

Nimetz is then expected to travel to Macedonia for meetings with officials there.

Greece's objections to Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia since independence in 1991 has complicated the Balkan country’s bids to join the Europe Union and NATO.

Athens says the use of the name Macedonia suggests Skopje has territorial claims to Greece's northern region of Macedonia.

Authorities from both Greece and Macedonia have said they want to settle the issue this year, and the two sides have agreed to intensify consultations.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on January 27 that he is ready to accept a “composite name” that includes the moniker “Macedonia.”

That could mean a name such as Upper Macedonia or New Macedonia, he said following talks with the leaders of most opposition parliamentary parties.

But Tsipras failed to receive backing from the opposition parties, with Conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying, “We will not divide Greeks to unite Skopje.”

In Skopje, a "coordination meeting" under Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov went late into the night on January 27 and no statements have been issued.

Protesters demanding negotiations on the country’s name change be terminated gathered outside the meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, and opposition leaders.

The demonstrators also objected to Zaev's plan to rename Macedonia's main highway and airport, both named for the 4th century B.C. leader Alexander the Great.

A protest against allowing the name "Macedonia" to be used by Greece's neighbor is scheduled for February 4 in Athens.

A similar rally in the Greek port city of Thessaloniki on January 21 was attended by tens of thousands of people.

At the UN, Macedonia is formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), but the Security Council has agreed that it is a provisional name.

Macedonia has also been admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund under the FYROM moniker.

Most countries, including Russia and the United States, recognize the country's constitutional title, the Republic of Macedonia.

With reporting by AP