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‘Welcome To North Macedonia’ Signs Greet Balkan Travelers

Billboards are changed from Republic of Macedonia to Republic of Northern Macedonia along the border with Greece on February 13.
Billboards are changed from Republic of Macedonia to Republic of Northern Macedonia along the border with Greece on February 13.

Travelers are now being greeted with newly erected signs that say "Welcome To North Macedonia” as they cross the Balkan country's border with Greece after Skopje officially notified the United Nations about its long-debated name change.

"May today be the beginning of a long friendship between Greece and North Macedonia," the foreign minister of North Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov, said on February 13 in a tweet.

"We can't change our past, but we can and we will shape our future of friendship, partnership and cooperation," he added.

The UN confirmed on February 13 that it had been officially informed by the government in Skopje that the country's new name is North Macedonia.

At the UN, the country had been known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia because Athens objected to the use of "Macedonia," the name used for Greece's own northern region.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "welcomes this development, which settles the long-standing dispute between Athens and Skopje and demonstrates that even seemingly intractable issues can be resolved through dialogue and political will."

The UN announcement came after Skopje on February 12 said the country was officially renamed the Republic of North Macedonia under a landmark agreement to normalize relations with Greece that also allows North Macedonia to enter NATO.

As part of the agreement, North Macedonia's customs office must put the new name on road signs at all border crossings within three days. Plaques on offices must be replaced within four months.

The Interior Ministry is to begin issuing new passports by the end of 2019, while the central bank is scheduled to start issuing new banknotes by the beginning of 2020.

Dimitrov on February 6 signed a NATO accession agreement, a key step toward Skopje's becoming the military alliance's 30th member.

Greece's parliament was the first to approve the NATO protocol, and all other members are expected to follow suit over the next year.

Three other former Yugoslav republics -- Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro -- have become NATO members, joining other states in the region including Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania.

Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina remain outside NATO, but many in those countries have expressed hopes of joining the Western alliance.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and Balkan Insight
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