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Moldova: U.S. And OSCE Press Russia To Withdraw Troops

Munich, 10 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. and other delegations to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have told Russia to honor its promise to withdraw all troops and ammunition from Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestr.

In two meetings in Vienna this week, Moscow was accused of ignoring the commitments made by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin at the OSCE summit in Lisbon in December 1996. Russia was also accused of ignoring repeated requests to allow OSCE monitors to check the levels of troops, equipment and arms still deployed in the Transdniestr region.

The charges were made by Moldova's deputy foreign minister, Iurie Leanca and were backed by the U.S., France, Canada and the European Union. Romania and Azerbaijan also became involved in the debate.

France said that "absolutely no progress had been made" in resolving the problem. The EU delegate, Jutta Stefan-Bastl, said the OSCE had no real information on how many troops were still there. In 1994 Russia said that it stationed 8,500 troops there. In November last year the OSCE said it believed there were still more than 3,000 in place.

Russia's responded that it was not deliberately trying to maintain a military presence in the region but there were many difficulties -- including political ones -- in fulfilling the commitment. Russian delegates assured said that the promises would be kept but gave no deadline for doing so.

In response, the U.S. proposed at a meeting of the OSCE permanent council a number of concrete steps which it said Russia should take before the end of the year..

Moldova demanded the withdrawal of the Russian troops when it declared independence in 1992 but the operation was complicated by internal problems. The Transdniestr region, largely-populated by ethnic Russians, declared separation from Moldova. The move led to heavy fighting in which scores of people died. The Russian 14th army, then led by General Alexander Lebed, remained in the Transdniestr region. Moscow described it as a "peacekeeping" force but Moldova considered it to be a foreign army illegally based on its territory

In October 1994 Russia and Moldova agreed on the withdrawal of the troops, but in practice they stayed in place. Russian commanders said that hundreds of their men were locals who wanted to stay in Transdniestr.

In December 1996, at the OSCE summit meeting in Lisbon, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin joined other Government leaders in a statement calling for the "early, orderly and complete withdrawal of Russian troops". The statement forms part of the final document issued by the Summit meeting.

This week's meetings in Vienna were told that some troops and military material were indeed withdrawn last year. But the withdrawal stopped and, as far as is know, no more troops have moved this year. The EU described this as "deplorable" behavior.

Speaking on behalf of the EU, the Austrian delegate Jutta Stefan-Bastl, said that "the EU would very much welcome a decision by the Russian side to provide detailed information on the number of troops, equipment and arms still present in Transdniestr. "

She added that Russia should allow international observers to inspect the situation. She said: "we deplore that our repeated requests for access to weapons depots have never been taken into consideration by Russia."

The U.S., the EU and other countries said they considered the continued storage of arms in Transdniestr as a "serious factor of instability and a risk for the preservation of stability in the whole region." They asked Russia to provide detailed information on how many weapons and other equipment were still in Transdniestr.

Russia responded that it was ready to begin the destruction of munitions by the end of this month. Romania said it was ready to assist in the destruction if required.

The U. S. delegate, David Johnson, told the two meetings that Russia should establish a number of targets to be fulfilled before the OSCE foreign ministers meet in Oslo at the end of the year. "They should include the actual departure of several trainloads of equipment back to Russia and the conclusion of a comprehensive schedule for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces and equipment," Johnson said.

He welcomed Russia's statement that the destruction of munitions would begin this month and said it must be implemented fully. Johnson also proposed that Russia allow the OSCE mission in the region to monitor the withdrawal and the destruction of weapons.

The U.S. -- backed by several other countries -- proposed that another meeting on the problem be held in Vienna in October. It would assess how much progress Russia had made in meeting these proposals and draw up a report for the OSCE foreign ministers conference in December.