Theresa May has been urged to help Macedonia join the European Union as Britain prepares to leave the multinational organisation.
Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev asked Mrs May to help it achieve a “Euro-Atlantic future” as she became the first British premier to visit the Balkan country in almost two decades.
After talks in the Macedonian capital Skopje, Mr Zaev thanked her and Britain for its support since the land-locked country achieved independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
He said: “Today you have once more reiterated your message of support for our strategic goals of membership into Nato and the EU and for that I would like to pay my enormous appreciation to you.”
He added: “I call upon you to support us even more directly together with other EU member states in June to set a date for starting a session for negotiations with the EU.”
Mrs May’s visit to Skopje was the first visit to the country by a serving British prime minister since Tony Blair in 1999.
As well as talked with Mr Zaev, she also visited the country’s parliament and went on a walk in the city with civil rights activists.
Britain will host the next Western Balkans summit in London in July, which Mrs May said would address issues including corruption, organised crime and economic stability.
We must be alive to the challenges of the past yet remain ambitious in securing the peaceful prosperous and democratic future that your citizens and communities deserveTheresa May
It will also seek to increase political co-operation over disputes between countries in the region and those stemming from the 1990s conflicts, Mrs May added.
The last wars on European soil took place in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the Balkans in the 1990s, following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
Mrs May on Wednesday had reaffirmed Britain’s “unconditional commitment” to Europe’s security post-Brexit.
Speaking in Skopje on Thursday, Mrs May praised reforms carried out by Mr Zaev’s administration in the 18 months since elections.
She said that the relationship between the two countries would deepen “even as the UK embarks on a future outside of the European Union”.
She added: “I know that the conflicts of the past can sometimes seem almost impossible to overcome.
“Many difficult questions remain unresolved including internal conflicts in the region, serious and organised crime, illegal migration and extremism.
“We must be alive to the challenges of the past yet remain ambitious in securing the peaceful prosperous and democratic future that your citizens and communities deserve.
“With the right political will, progress can be rapid and far-reaching.”