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Athens is failing to focus on meaningful regional issues, Foreign Minister says, referring to decision of Greek border staff to cover up the letters "MK" on any Macedonian cars entering Greece.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki | Photo by gov.mk
Foreign Minister Nikola Popovski was the first senior Macedonian official to react, after Greek border guards last week begun covering the letters "MK" on Macedonian car plates with a sticker, in Greek and English, reading: “Recognized by Greece as FYROM” [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia].
“We expect our neighbours in Greece to be willing to focus on the real priority for our region – cooperation and support in the European and Euro-Atlantic integration process,” Popovski said in Skopje, adding that “We have reacted at a diplomatic level”.
Relations between Macedonia and Greece have been strained for two decades by the row over Macedonia's name. Greece insists that use of the term "Macedonia" implies a territorial claim to its own northern province of the same name.
Citing the unresolved issue, Greece has been blocking Macedonia’s progress towards both EU and NATO membership. UN-brokered talks to overcome the dispute have so far failed to yield a solution.
The Greek liaison office in Skopje on Tuesday confirmed the new practice saying the country had a right to do this under the 1995 UN interim agreement that regulates relations between the two states.
However, the office says that Greek officials will put stickers on the back wind-shield of the cars and not on the number plates.
"Upon entry of private vehicles with an “MK” sign into the territory of Greece, Greek officials will place, on a free space on the back wind-shield of those vehicles, a self-adhesive sticker stating the Greek reservations regarding this code".
They say this will only affect vehicles with the new plates, containing the letters "MK".
Macedonia introduced new number plates in February, saying they were needed to meet EU standards. Unlike the old ones, the new plates feature MK in small letters in the corner.
Under Greek pressure the UN recognised Macedonia under the provisonal term of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, in 1993 - but most Macedonians strongly resent use of the term.
The Greek move could potentially have a major impact on tourism, as Greece is a top summer destinations for many Macedonians - and many drivers may object to having their cars tampered with in this way.
Greek liaison office insists that, "citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are welcome in Greece" and that "any attempts at discouraging them from visiting Greece or any misleading statements are counterproductive".
Greek border services have started covering the letters "MK" on Macedonian car number plates with a sticker of their own, marking a new low in Greek-Macedonian relations.
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