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EU, NATO plan could unravel over dispute

BRUSSELS, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- A European Union and NATO effort to stabilize the Balkans could be undermined by a dispute between Greece and Macedonia, the International Crisis Group says.

The report, released Monday by the Belgium-based independent non-governmental organization, says that while violence between ethnic Macedonians and the Albanian minority is unlikely, the EU and NATO's strategy to stabilize the Balkans could be derailed over an ongoing name conflict between Macedonia and Greece, the Crisis Group reported.

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Leaders in Greece have criticized Macedonia for an alleged attempt by the Macedonian government to steal Greece's Hellenic heritage. At the heart of the dispute is the move by Macedonia to rename the Skopje Airport after Alexander the Great among what Greek officials say are attacks on the country's culture.

The report, titled "Macedonia's Name: Breaking the Deadlock," says that without a compromise between the two countries Greece likely will block Macedonia's EU membership in addition to already blocking the country's NATO bid. Crisis Group officials say a move by Greece to block the EU integration plans for Macedonia could threaten the stability of the fragile western Balkans region.

"This is more than a bilateral dispute between Skopje (Macedonia) and Athens. It risks derailing the main strategy of both NATO and the EU for stabilizing Macedonia and the region, based on enlargement and integration," Donald Steinberg, Crisis Group deputy president, said in a statement.

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