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OSCE May Replace Russia Peacekeepers In Moldova

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) meets with his Moldovan counterpart, Vladimir Voronin, outside Moscow on March 18.
(RFE/RL) -- Russia's peacekeeping force in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region may be replaced by an international mission after a political solution to the crisis is found, Russia's foreign minister has said.

He said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, and separatist leader Igor Smirnov signed a joint declaration after talks at the Kremlin leader's residence outside Moscow.

"The sides ... noted the stabilizing role of the current peacekeeping operation in the region and agreed that it would be expedient to transform it into a new mission under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after a solution [to the conflict] is found," Reuters quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was expected to chair a trilateral meeting with Voronin and Smirnov on ways to resolve the 17-year-old frozen conflict.

The meeting comes ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections in Moldova on April 5.

Diplomats have expressed concern that Moscow is seeking to solve the frozen conflict in Transdniester through a fast-track agreement that would bypass internationally supervised negotiations.

The EU special representative for Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, and the U.S. ambassador to the country, Asif Chaudhry, have spoken against the possible cancellation of the "five-plus-two" negotiations format, which include Russia, Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as the United States and the European Union.

Smirnov, however, has said that the trilateral meeting in Moscow would not undermine the "five-plus-two" format.