Transdniestr talks a stepping stone to settlement: OSCE

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The first formal talks since 2006 on Moldova's simmering two-decade conflict with breakaway Transdniestr have helped the two sides inch towards a settlement, OSCE chair Lithuania said Thursday.

"The discussion of principles and procedures for the conduct of the negotiations, which took place in a constructive atmosphere, is a stepping stone to achieving further tangible progress on the Transdniestrian settlement," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said in a statement.

"Maintaining the positive momentum and continuing regular official meetings is essential now to advance the comprehensive resolution of the conflict -- the goal that we all share," he added.

Negotiators pledged to meet again in February 2012 in Ireland.

Lithuania brokered the two-day Vilnius talks as current leader of the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The meeting involved the "5+2" grouping -- Moldova, Transdniestr, Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, plus the European Union and United States as observers -- which has spent years trying to resolve the conflict.

"The negotiations were quite tense and discussions were heated on both days. I could describe the meeting as constructive," Lithuania's conflict-resolution envoy Giedrius Cekuolis told AFP.

"We talked about negotiating principles. These are very important, because they would define the whole path for official talks until the settlement of the conflict," Cekuolis, who chaired the talks, said.

"We did not have the goal to agree on everything in the first meeting, because it was unrealistic. But I think we agreed on some 60 percent if not more," he added, without elaborating.

Mainly Russian-speaking Transdniestr broke from Moldova in 1991 as the latter split from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Its 1991-1992 armed conflict with the Moldovans -- predominantly Romanian-speakers -- cost some 700 lives.

The sliver of territory along the River Dniestr has over 550,000 residents, and Russian peacekeepers have been stationed there since July 1992.

It has never achieved international recognition and remained largely lawless, becoming a security worry for Europe due to its porous borders and heavy presence of arms.

Moldova, sandwiched between EU member Romania and ex-Soviet Ukraine, has a population of some four million.

As it has refused to renounce its sovereignty over Transdniestr, the conflict is a hurdle to its efforts to join the EU, which have solid backing from Lithuania and other ex-communist members of the bloc.

© 2011 AFP

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