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Western European Official Encouraged By New Transdniester Leader

The Council of Europe's Thomas Hammarberg
CHISINAU -- A Council of Europe official who visited Moldova's separatist Transdniester region said its new leadership shows signs it wants to improve the human rights situation in the territory, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, made the statement in an interview with RFE/RL on January 18, one day after holding talks in Tiraspol with Trandniester leader Yevgeny Shevchuk, who defeated the region's long-standing head, Igor Smirnov, in an unrecognized election last month.

Hammarberg, the first Western European official to meet with Shevchuk since the election, said he asked the new Transdniester leader to improve conditions in the region's notoriously bad prisons.

"The new leadership was responsive to our requests," Hammarberg said.

On January 17, with the Council of Europe official visiting the region, Shevchuk announced his region has scrapped a 100 percent customs duty on goods imported from Moldova in a move aimed at improving ties with Chisinau.

Transdniester, located along Moldova's border with Ukraine and mainly populated by Russian speakers, has ruled itself since breaking away from the largely Romanian-speaking Moldova in a brief war in 1992.

Its de facto independence has not been recognized internationally.