Transdniestr peace talks to restart after freeze: officials

22nd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The parties in the dispute over Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestr on Thursday agreed to relaunch negotiations for a permanent settlement after a half decade suspension, officials said.

The breakthrough in one of Europe's longest-running frozen conflicts was reached at closed-door talks in Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry and the Moldovan government said in statements.

"The government welcomes the decision and notes that it is the logical result of the efforts of all the process participants over the past two years," Moldova's government said in a statement released in Chisinau.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, whose country holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), described the development as "a key step for progress in the Transdniestrian settlement process."

Transdniestr, a predominantly Russian-speaking region of about 500,000 people in eastern Moldova, unilaterally declared independence from Moldova in 1991 as the latter split from the Soviet Union.

It then engaged in armed conflict with Romanian-speaking Moldovans between 1991 and 1992, with the loss of some 700 lives. The region never achieved international recognition.

So-called "5+2" talks on the conflict - involving Moldova, Transdniestr, Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, plus the European Union and United States as observers -- were suspended in 2006. Informal talks restarted in March 2010.

The Lithuanian envoy to the talks, Giedrius Cekuolis, said the parties had already been invited to Vilnius for the first official negotiations.

"The OSCE chairmanship believes that in parallel to discussing the political issues in the '5+2' format, it is vital to continue addressing urgent practical problems people on both sides of the Dniestr/Nistru River are facing," the security body said.

The Russian foreign ministry said the next meeting, whose exact date would be determined at a later stage, would be dedicated to discussing "principles and an agenda of the talks in the official format."

Russian broadsheet Kommersant said earlier this month that Moscow had strong-armed Igor Smirnov, the veteran leader of the Transdniestr region, into agreeing to re-start the talks by piling psychological pressure on him.

Last month, the Moscow-based investigators started a probe into possible mismanagement of Russian financial help given to Moldova, said the newspaper, adding that the investigation targeted Smirnov's family members.

Transdniestr is heading into presidential elections in December in which Smirnov is set to stand for re-election, in defiance of strong urgings from the Kremlin.

A country of 4.3 million people wedged between Ukraine and EU member Romania, Moldova was part of Romania between 1918 and World War II, when it was annexed into the Soviet Union by Stalin.

The Russian-speaking region of Transdniestr broke away from the rest of Romanian-speaking Moldova in a short war in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Chisinau, which one day hopes to join the European Union, has refused to renounce the territory.

© 2011 AFP

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