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Moldova and separatist state vow to solve rift

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and the leader of the separatist Transdniestria region agreed on Friday to hold talks to "gradually" resolve issues behind their longstanding conflict.

Voronin and Transdniestria's self-styled president, Igor Smirnov, spoke for about 90 minutes in Bendery in the separatist region; their first meeting since 2001. The Moldovan leader's office said the talks took place in a "constructive atmosphere".

No negotiations have taken place for two years on Moldova's 17-year-old separatist rebellion, one of several "frozen conflicts" in ex-Soviet states.

"The President of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin, and the leader of Transdniestria, Igor Smirnov, agreed to continue their meetings in order to gradually solve all existing problems...," the president's office said in a statement.

Moldova, it said, had agreed to ask the European Union and the United States to lift an entry ban on officials from Transdniestria, which has no international recognition. The region would, in exchange, grant access to Voronin.

The two leaders agreed to convene a working group to build trust and discuss security, disarmament and common projects.

Transdniestria, a sliver of land wedged between the Dnestr River and Ukraine, proclaimed independence from Moldova in 1990 when it was still a Soviet republic.

The region's Russian-speaking hardliners feared that Moldova's majority, which shares a culture and language with Romania, would one day rejoin its larger neighbour to the south.

That never happened, but the sides fought a brief war in 1992 after the collapse of Soviet rule and were separated by Russian troops who remain in Moldova despite pledges to leave.

Residents of Transdniestria voted in a 2006 referendum to uphold independence and one day join Russia, rejecting Moldova's offer of broad autonomy.

Voronin, the only communist leader in an ex-Soviet state, had long accused Russia of abetting the separatists and called for integration with the West. He has since patched up ties with Moscow by saying his country must remain free of military blocs.

There was no indication of any resumption of "5+2" talks on the row, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation, Russia and Ukraine -- with the EU and United States as observers.

Talks became bogged down over a Moldovan scheme to require goods leaving Transdniestria to bear a Moldovan customs stamp.

Western countries backed the scheme on grounds it would stop what they said was rampant smuggling, while separatist leaders described the measure as a "trade blockade".

Source: International Herald Tribune, France 

 By Dmitry ChubashenkoReuters


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