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U.S. Voices Concern At Journalist's Arrest In Transdniester

CHISINAU -- U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Asif J. Chaudhry says he has spoken to the leader of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region about last week's arrest of an independent journalist, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Chaudhry told RFE/RL on April 15 that he met separatist leader Igor Smirnov in Tiraspol the previous day and told him the U.S. government and the international community are "concerned" about Ernest Vardanean, 33, who was taken into custody on April 7 in Tiraspol on charges of spying.

Vardanean was charged with high treason and espionage and could face 12-20 years in prison if found guilty.

According to Transdniester's official news agency, Olvia Press, Smirnov has promised that Vardanean will have "a fair trial."

The Moldovan government has demanded Vardanean's release, as have numerous human rights and journalists' associations, including Reporters Without Borders.

Three Romanian members of the European Parliament have launched an online petition calling Vardanean's arrest "unacceptable" and demanding his immediate release.