Transdniestr talks resume after five-year freeze

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The first formal talks since 2006 on Moldova's simmering two-decade conflict with breakaway Transdniestr were hailed as a key step Wednesday, but participants played down the chance of landmark results.

"We expect to start the real work on the settlement of the Transdniestr conflict," Eugene Carpov, ex-Soviet Moldova's deputy prime minister, told journalists as he arrived at the closed-door venue in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Lithuania brokered the talks in its capacity as chair of the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Its year-long stint ends in January.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said the very fact that the meeting was taking place after a five-year freeze marked a "golden millimetre" towards resolving years of tension.

"The delegations sat down and started talking about principles and procedures to continue renewed negotiations," Azubalis told reporters.

"This is probably the first time since the end of the Cold war when the sides in a frozen conflict that, unfortunately, still exists in Europe are sitting down and talking," he added.

The meeting involves the "5+2" grouping -- Moldova, Transdniestr, Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, plus the European Union and United States as observers.

Philip Remler, a former US diplomat who heads the OSCE's mission in Moldova, warned against expecting "miracles" from the two-day meeting.

"This is a start. You have to have talks before you can have success," he told AFP.

"We don't expect that at the very first meeting -- when people put their positions on the table -- that there will be a breakthrough," he added.

He noted that an actual solution was not even under discussion yet.

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

In 1991-1992 it engaged in an armed conflict with the Moldovans -- predominantly Romanian-speakers -- which cost some 700 lives.

Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in Transdniestr since July 1992.

The sliver of territory along the River Dniestr has over 550,000 residents.

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

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

It has refused to renounce its sovereignty over Transdniestr, making settling the conflict crucial to its drive to join the EU, which has solid backing from Lithuania and other ex-communist members of the bloc.

© 2011 AFP

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