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Moldova: Chisinau, Tiraspol Welcome Ukrainian Plan, But Settlement Remains Far Off

Transdniestrian leadership's headquarters (file photo) A recently proposed plan for the resolution of the conflict between Moldova and its breakaway region of Transdniester was met with moderate optimism by both sides during a two-day meeting in Ukraine this week. The Ukrainian proposal raised hopes that negotiations to resolve the frozen conflict could be restarted. The plan provides for expanding the negotiations framework to include the European Union and the United States alongside Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). But doubts still persist about the separatists' commitment to the plan, which also envisages the initiation of a democratization process in Transdniester.

Prague, 18 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine says Moldova and Transdniester have reacted positively to a plan recently put forward by President Viktor Yushchenko to settle their 13-year-old conflict.

The two sides attended a round of talks on 16 and 17 May in the Ukrainian city of Vinnitsa. The gathering in Vinnitsa marked the second time the two sides had been in contact since Chisinau officially suspended reunification negotiations last summer.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dmirto Svistkov said Moldovan and Transdniestrian negotiators also discussed Yushchenko's proposals to invite the European Union and the United States to join in the negotiation process. The proposal follows an earlier call by Moldova to include the United States, European Union, and neighboring Romania in the negotiations.

Representatives of the OSCE, which is part of the Transdniester negotiations framework together with Ukraine and Russia, were also present at the Vinnitsa talks.

William Hill, the OSCE's ambassador to Moldova, told RFE/RL that both Moldova and Ukraine lobbied to include the U.S. and EU in future negotiations.
The dispute dates back to 1990, when the Russian-speaking Transdniester -- a narrow stretch of land on the left bank of the Dniester River -- declared independence over fears that Moldova might seek reunification with its western neighbor, Romania.

"The statement that we adopted at the end of the [Vinnitsa] meeting, it indicates that representatives of Ukraine and the OSCE supported the initiative of the Republic of Moldova to invite representatives of the European Union and the United States to the next meeting," Hill said.

It is unclear whether Transdniester supports the proposal.

But Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan told RFE/RL that his government has forwarded official invitations to the European Union, the United States, and also Romania to join the negotiations.

Stratan said the European Union has already responded favorably.

"We have received an official reply from EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and from the Luxembourg foreign minister [editor's note: Luxembourg currently holds the rotating EU Presidency], saying that the invitation presented by Moldova has been accepted," Stratan said. "This demonstrates once again that the EU intends to offer assistance to Moldova and to find the mechanism for the peaceful solution of the [Transdniestrian] dispute."

The dispute dates back to 1990, when the Russian-speaking Transdniester -- a narrow stretch of land on the left bank of the Dniester River -- declared independence over fears that Moldova might seek reunification with its western neighbor, Romania.

The two sides fought a short but bloody war in the summer of 1992, in which some 1,000 people were killed. Russian forces left over in Transdniester from the Soviet era quelled the conflict and negotiated an uneasy truce between the two sides.

But attempts to settle the dispute in negotiations sponsored by Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE have failed, mainly because of Transdniester's condition that Moldova become a federation of two independent states.

The new seven-point plan was put forward by Ukrainian President Yushchenko during a 22 April summit in Chisinau of GUUAM -- a group comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.

Among the plan's priorities, Yushchenko outlined the creation and development of a civil society and a multiparty system in Transdniester. He also called for free and fair elections in the separatist region.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the proposal to hold elections monitored by international observers was also discussed by the two sides in Vinnitsa.

OSCE Ambassador Hill noted that main sticking point between the two sides remains Transdniester's refusal to accept being part of Moldova.

"You clearly need a clear acknowledgement from the left bank that Transdniester is a part of Moldova and that we are not talking about two separate states here," Hill said. "What we are talking about is a division of powers and the provision of adequate rights of local self-government to a region of a recognized state -- and finding acceptable agreement on this is crucial. The issue of democratization [in Transdniester] is also crucial."

The Yushchenko plan also proposes international monitoring of the Transdniester section of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border and of arms factories in the separatist region.

Transdniester has been repeatedly accused of illegally producing and smuggling weapons across the border with Ukraine.

Many of the smuggled weapons are also believed to have come from the huge arms cashes that remain at Russian bases in Transdniester. The withdrawal of thousands of tons of Russian military equipment and more than 1,000 troops has been another obstacle in resolving the dispute.

Under a 1999 OSCE-supervised agreement, Moscow pledged to withdraw its troops and military equipment by the end of 2002. A one-year extension of the term has also expired without Russia fulfilling its obligation.

Hill told RFE/RL that the Russian withdrawal has been frozen for more than a year.

"There has been no movement -- we've had no trains leaving since March of 2004," Hill said. "I've been to Moscow, I've been in discussions with Russian authorities here, and we continue to try and to hope to find ways to renew the withdrawal activities."

Hill said the OSCE has and can provide the necessary resources to assist and support the withdrawal, which could be completed in as little as six months -- provided the political will is there.