UN court starts hearings around Macedonia name dispute
Macedonia asked the UN's highest court on Monday to order Greece to stop blocking its bid to join NATO in a dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name, the same as that of a Greek province.
Athens unilaterally broke a 1995 treaty, "bringing to an end our ability to join international organisations of which the respondent (Greece) is already a member," Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Miloshoski told judges of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
"We very much regret this," he said, adding that "this case has been brought to ensure that the respondent upholds one of its key obligations".
Macedonia filed an application with the court in November 2008, claiming Greece was violating its rights.
It asked the court to order Greece "to cease and desist from objecting in any way, whether directly or indirectly, to (Macedonia's) membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nor any other international multilateral and regional organisations and institutions of which (Greece) is a member".
The two countries have been at loggerheads since Macedonia proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, with Greece insisting that the use of the name implies a claim on Greek territory.
UN-led negotiations have proven fruitless.
Macedonia was recognised by the United Nations in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
More than 120 nations, including Russia and the United States, have recognised the landlocked Balkan country under its constitutional name: Republic of Macedonia.
Philippe Sands, a lawyer for Macedonia, told the judges "the stakes are high", arguing that the issue "is of eminent significance for the country's internal stability and regional well-being".
Greece will address the court later this week. The hearings continue until March 30, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgment.
© 2011 AFP