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Macedonia, Greece Exchange Proposals In Name Dispute

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (file photo).
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (file photo).

Greece and Macedonia say they traded draft proposals for settling a decades-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic, ahead of UN-mediated talks later this month.

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said on March 20 that Athens had sent its proposal to the Skopje government and was awaiting comments from its northern neighbor.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said after receiving the document that his ministry had sent its own proposals to Athens.

Dimitrov expressed confidence that the sides could overcome their differences and reach a “sustainable and dignified solution.”

Greece objects to the former Yugoslav republic's use of the name Macedonia, which Athens says could imply territorial claims over its own northern region of the same name.

Negotiations between the two neighbors have been inconclusive since 1991, when Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The row has hampered Macedonia's efforts to join NATO and the EU. Greece is a member of both entities.

Skopje and Athens have recently stepped up UN-brokered negotiations to resolve the dispute.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is scheduled to travel to Skopje on March 22 for talks with Macedonian officials.

Kotzias is also set to meet with Dimitrov in Vienna on March 30 at talks hosted by United Nations special envoy Matthew Nimetz.

Macedonia has said it was ready to add a geographical qualifier to its name to help resolve the dispute. An agreement could include Macedonia adding "Upper," "New," or "North" to its name.

But mass protests in both countries are an indication of popular resistance to any compromise.

On March 4, about 10,000 people took to the streets of the Macedonian capital to protest a possible change to the name of the country. A demonstration in Athens drew tens of thousands of people a month earlier.

With reporting by AP