Bulgaria rejects Russian anger over Balkan Summit

SOFIA, Jan 27, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bulgaria, facing angry complaints from Russia, on Wednesday defended its decision not to invite Yugoslavia to a Balkan summit last weekend.

"The aim of the meeting, which was fulfilled, had been to find a common approach to solving regional problems," said Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov.

"At a time when cooperation with Yugoslavia is difficult, its participation in the event would have blocked positive results of the meeting," he told a news conference.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday issued a statement denouncing the informal meeting of prime ministers of seven countries bordering Yugoslavia which was hosted by Bulgaria.

Representatives of Belgrade, which enjoys relatively good ties with Moscow, had not been invited to the meeting, also attended by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

"We are surprised by the absence of Yugoslavia, whose internal situation was discussed at the meeting," said Russia's statement. "The isolationist format of the event...could hardly be constructive, not to mention ethical."

The Russian document said that a decision by the summit to continue such consultations "looked very similar to an attempt to create a closed anti-Yugoslav pact with Euro-Atlantic orientation."

The summit was unanimous in pressing the West to do more to get off the ground the Balkan Stability Pact, formally launched by Big Powers last year but still lacking economic substance.

But they were divided on whether to ease international sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia, which are hurting the economies of its neighbors. Bulgaria said they should be revised, while Albania said any relaxation would play into the hands of Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Vlaikov said the meeting was a success as it had created a spirit of better cooperation and made possible an honest dialogue on the problems of the troubled Balkan region.

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