UN court rules against Greece in Macedonia row

UN court rules against Greece in Macedonia row

THE HAGUE - Agence France-Presse
UN court rules against Greece in Macedonia row

A general view of the Great Hall of Justice where the International Court of Justice delivers its ruling in a dispute between Greece and Macedonia over Athens' veto of Macedonia's bid for NATO membership in The Hague. AP Photo

Greece was in the wrong when it blocked Macedonia's admission to NATO because of a dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name, the UN's highest court ruled Monday.

The 2008 action violated a provisional agreement reached in 1995 to end the long-running row, the International Court of Justice ruled, saying Athens had "breached its obligation." Macedonia lodged a complaint before the ICJ shortly after NATO was forced to turn it down for membership because of Greece's objection.

In 2009 Greece prevented the EU from starting accession talks with Skopje, an official candidate since 2005, despite recommendations from the European Commission.

Greece alleges that use of the name Macedonia suggests a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name while Skopje maintains that changing the name would be a denial of its own national identity and language.

Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

More than 120 countries including Russia and the United States, however, have recognised the Balkan country under the name of "Republic of Macedonia." Skopje had asked the ICJ to order Greece to stop objecting to its membership in "any other international, multilateral and regional organisations and institutions." The court however ruled out making such an order, saying it did not consider it necessary.
 Macedonia struck a conciliatory tone as it hailed the ruling.

"We see this ruling as a positive impulse and we count on cooperation with our Greek neighbour in a spirit of friendship, understanding and mutual respect," Macedonian President Gjorje Ivanov said in Skopje.

"For the time being, we do not want to look (at this) through the categories of winners and losers. We need to work together with Greece on our common future and the future of our region," he added. Athens said for its part that it was "reviewing" the ruling but insisted that it did not directly address the long-running diplomatic wrangle with Skopje over Macedonia's official name, which Athens says it remains committed to resolving through UN-supervised talks.

"With full respect for the ICJ as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, Greece is reviewing the decision," the ministry said.

"Greece will continue to pursue negotiations in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable solution," it said.

 Established in 1945, the ICJ is the UN's highest judicial organ and settles disputes between states.