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Chisinau Hopes 'Five Plus Two' Will Add Up to One Unitary State

A new round of international multilateral talks on Moldova's breakaway territory of Transdniester will begin in the Chisinau on 26-27 January. The issues topping the agenda are the democratization and demilitarization of the separatist region. Moldova has been seeking the withdrawal of Russian troops and munitions from Transdniester. The new round of talks will mark the second occasion that observers from the United States and EU have joined what were previously five-part negotiations. Moldovan officials are hoping that the new expanded format -- now referred to as five plus two -- will eventually lead to a breakthrough in the more than decade-long conflict.

Washington, 12 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In September, representatives of Chisinau and Tiraspol along with mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), invited officials from the United States and EU to participate as observers in the five-party negotiations.

Moldovan officials participating in an RFE/RL briefing on 11 January say the invitation sprung from a frustration with the lack of progress witnessed in previous rounds.

Alexandru Flenchea, head of the information and analysis division of Moldova's Ministry of Reintegration, recalled that Moldovan officials felt that their Russian counterparts were engaged in "negotiations for the sake of negotiations."

"For a decade we couldn't reach any results in the negotiation process because we had Russian Federation representatives on one side, and we had Transdniester delegation," Flenchea said. "I must say here that all Transdniester leaders are citizens of the Russian Federation. And we could often see that the positions expressed by the Russians and the Transdniester delegation were the same. And the Ukraine usually was very passive in those times but things have changed last, last year. Therefore, it was very difficult for us to reach a good viable solution because all of the initiatives were usually blocked."

At the same time, Flenchea was careful to emphasize that Moldova is not pinning all of its hopes on the multilateral process. Chisinau is still engaged in bilateral negotiations directly with Moscow.

Chisinau authorities have even talked with their counterparts in Tiraspol, who they officially do not recognize. For example, the 2004 school crisis forced officials on both sides of the Dniester River to talk. During the summer, Transdniestrian separatists closed down schools that were teaching in Moldovan language with Latin script.

"Speaking about the Transdniester authorities, we meet with their representatives within the negotiations," Flenchea said. "But sometimes there is a need to contact them when there is a need to solve great problems. I refer to the school crisis. We needed to settle that problem to make the schools operate, function, because it was beyond politics. We needed the kids to go to school."

The new round of talks follows closely after Belgium's Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht assumed his country's presidency of the OSCE. De Gucht has pledged to resolve Europe's so-called frozen conflicts, which includes the Transdniester problem. This week, de Gucht signaled from Brussels that he will not a adopt a tougher stance vis-a-vis Russia. He also criticized Moldovan authorities for their own harder position.

"One of the complicating factors is the recent stance of Moldova on this, which is in fact asking for a unitary state," de Gucht said. "So, to a certain extent they have been backtracking on this. And that's what I mean, that maybe we should try to find a solution to the military problems which is not necessarily linked to an immediate solution to the political problem itself."

De Gucht added that Belgium will try to avoid "theoretical debates" on Russia's failure to meet a 2002 deadline to remove its troops and munitions from Transdniester.

However, more recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that Russian troops must remain in Transdniester after a negotiated settlement to prevent munitions from falling into the wrong hands. Lavrov has also insisted the Transdniester conflict can only be resolved through direct talks.

(RFE/RL 15.i.06)

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