Transdniestr talks resuming after five-year freeze

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Delegates gathered in Lithuania Wednesday for the first official talks since 2006 aimed at ending Moldova's simmering two-decade conflict with the breakaway region of Transdniestr.

The two-day negotiations are not expected to deliver landmark results but holding them is still a key sign, said Giedrius Cekuolis, host Lithuania's conflict-resolution envoy.

"Progress in frozen conflicts is possible only in millimetres. The solution to the conflict itself can take years," Cekuolis told AFP ahead of the meeting due later Wednesday.

But the gathering itself is a sign of the "political will" of both Moldova and Transdniestr, he underlined.

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.

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

"The efforts of all parties helped to propel the process from stagnation and to an official level where things are not done under the table but parties sit at one table,", Cekuolis said.

"The goal of the Vilnius meeting is to agree on principles and procedures for further official negotiations," he added.

The mainly Russian-speaking region 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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