|Saturday, 25 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 95, 01-05-18
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 95, 18 May 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN RULES OUT ACCESSION TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION STATERobert Kocharian told leading members of the Armenian Communist Party late on 16 May that he still opposes joining the Russia-Belarus Union state, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. The Communist Party convened a mass rally in Yerevan on 16 May to demand a nationwide referendum on accession to that union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). Party member Gagik Tadevosian told journalists after the meeting with Kocharian that his party will postpone further rallies until after the upcoming visits to Armenia by Russian President Vladimir Putin and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. LF
 AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES ORAL AGREEMENT REACHED ON KARABAKH SETTLEMENT...Vilayat Quliev has rejected as untrue parliament deputy Igbal Agazade's statement that during the OSCE-mediated talks in Key West the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents reached an oral agreement on the future status of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turan reported on 17 May. Agazade had said that under that agreement the enclave would have its own currency and national guard, and would be declared a free economic zone. The Lachin corridor linking the enclave with Armenia would be under international control, while communication across Armenian territory linking Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhichevan would be guaranteed. Quliev also denied that any document was prepared in Key West providing for an exchange of territories between the two states, or, as the "Tehran Times" has reported, that Iran has been invited to join the peace process. LF
 ...SAYS BAKU MAY NOT RESPOND TO TURKMEN CLAIMSQuliev also declined to confirm earlier statements by other officials that a formal response is being prepared to the most recent Turkmen Foreign Ministry note protesting Azerbaijan's exploitation of Caspian oil deposits to which Ashgabat lays claim, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 May 2001). He said Baku will try to resolve the disagreement with Ashgabat by alternative means, without delivering a formal diplomatic note. Ilham Aliev, deputy president of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR, was similarly quoted by Turan on 17 May as saying that SOCAR will not respond to the Turkmen protest. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SAYS CHECHEN REFUGEES NOT GRANTED ASYLUMAzerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Ali Gassanov told a PACE-sponsored conference on refugees and displaced persons that opened in Baku on 17 May that Baku has not granted asylum to Chechen refugees who have fled to Azerbaijan to stay with relatives there, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 GEORGIA SAYS RUSSIAN USE OF ABKHAZ BASE CONTINGENT ON LIFTING VISA REQUIREMENTCaucasus Press on 18 May quoted Georgian Foreign Ministry official Kakha Sikharulidze as saying that Georgia will officially grant Moscow permission to use the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia, which Russian troops will vacate by 1 July, as a rehabilitation center for Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone only after Russia lifts the current visa requirement for Georgian citizens entering the Russian Federation. A Russian Defense Ministry delegation is to visit Sukhum next week to discuss the Russian withdrawal from Gudauta with the Abkhaz leadership, which opposes it, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ABKHAZ DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS ON GEORGIA TO REIN IN GUERRILLASIn a letter to UN envoy Dieter Boden, Vladimir Mikanba condemned the 12 May killing by Georgian guerrillas in Ochamchira Raion of an Abkhaz military officer, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May. On 16 May, an Abkhaz local administration official was shot dead and his driver wounded in an attack by guerrillas in Gali Raion. Echoing a statement by the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001), Mikanba said the Georgian leadership's failure to take measures to prevent such terrorist killings "is a great obstacle" to resolving the conflict peacefully. Mikanba also accused the UN Observer Mission in Georgia of failing to impress upon the Georgian side the need to end terrorism in the conflict zone. LF
 LAWYER SAYS GEORGIAN INSURGENT LEADER WAS EXECUTEDAn independent forensic investigation indicates that Colonel Akaki Eliava, who headed an abortive uprising in western Georgia in late 1998, and his comrade in arms Gocha Gvilava were shot in cold blood, "Rezonansi" on 17 May quoted lawyer Eka Beselia as saying. The Georgian authorities say that Eliava and four supporters were detained in western Georgia in July 2000, and that Eliava and Gvilava were shot by police in an attempt to secure the release of hostages they took at a local police station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). Beselia said that Gvilava was shot four times in the back when lying on the ground, while Eliava's body showed multiple gun- shot wounds inflicted from a distance. LF
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS GUUAM MUST NOT UNDERMINE CISVladimir Voronin has said his country will continue to support the GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) alignment, of which it was a founding member in 1997, only if that grouping "does not run counter to the interests of cooperation within the CIS," according to Interfax on 17 May. Voronin noted the emergence within the CIS of two groups, GUUAM and the Eurasian Economic Community (the former CIS Customs Union). He said it is important to determine whether those new formations "are part of the whole [CIS], or whether they are independent or even contradict the CIS." Voronin added that "there must be no politics in either of these unions, or any other union." Turan on 30 April quoted Voronin as rejecting speculation in the wake of the Communist victory in the 25 February parliamentary elections that Moldova plans to quit GUUAM (see also Part II below). LF
 KYRGYZSTAN SOLICITS JAPANESE INVESTMENT IN ENERGY SECTORAddressing a meeting of the Kyrgyz-Japanese commission on economic cooperation that opened in Bishkek on 17 May, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev invited Japanese companies to participate in the tenders for privatizing the state-owned companies Kyrgyzenergo, Kyrgyztelekom, and Kyrgyz Air, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Japanese delegation head Tomichi Akiayama pointed out that the 1999 abduction by Islamic militants in southern Kyrgyzstan of four Japanese geologists had negatively impacted bilateral economic cooperation. President Askar Akaev for his part assured the Japanese visitors that the Kyrgyz armed forces are now capable of repulsing a new incursion by Islamic militants and of safeguarding the interests of foreign investors, Interfax reported. He added that Bishkek is determined to do "everything possible" to create favorable conditions for Japanese companies that invest in Kyrgyzstan. LF
 DONORS CONFERENCE ALLOCATES $430 MILLION FOR TAJIKISTANA UN-sponsored meeting of six donor countries and eight international organizations in Tokyo on 16 May decided to allocate $430 million to Tajikistan in 2001-2002, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. These funds will be used for poverty reduction and to boost economic growth. LF
 TAJIKISTAN, JAPAN SIGN FRIENDSHIP AND COOPERATION AGREEMENTTajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Tokyo on 16 May with Japanese Premier Yunichiro Koizumi to discuss the prospects for expanding economic cooperation, focussing particularly on exploiting Tajikistan's hydroelectric resources, and the production of automobiles and electronic goods, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 17 May. Rakhmonov expressed gratitude for Japan's humanitarian aid to Tajikistan, and proposed that Tokyo use its authority to help promote a settlement of the war in Afghanistan, according to Interfax. The two sides signed a joint declaration of friendship and cooperation, and Japan pledged a further 2.5 billion yen ($20 million) to support Tajikistan's agricultural sector and develop the country's infrastructure and educational programs. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 PETRITSCH 'OPEN' TO BOSNIAN CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGESHigh Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 17 May that "I believe we need to be open to any suggestion or idea, but it needs to be handled within the established institutions," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 May 2001). Referring to Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan's recent call for the abolition of the Republika Srpska in the interests of stability, Petritsch added: "I believe this is what Prime Minister Racan also meant. In this way, there is no disagreement" between Petritsch and Racan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). The high representative added, however, that "the Republika Srpska was created in Dayton and I, as the high representative, am here to implement [the agreement], and that means that Bosnia's state and its institutions, including the two entities, are the mission here." PM
 BOSNIAN SERBS SLAM RACANBosnian Serb President Mirko Sarovic said in Banja Luka on 17 May that Racan's remarks were "ill-intended and tendentious" and constitute a "subversion of the Dayton peace agreements," Reuters reported. Zivko Radisic, who represents the Serbs on the joint presidency, said that he is surprised at such remarks coming from the head of government of a country that signed the Dayton agreements. Petritsch, however, said that "Croatia is a very important partner in Dayton's implementation, a cosignatory of the Dayton accords. So of course Croatia has the right to voice its opinion on developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina." PM
 HERZEGOVINIAN LEADER DENIES DEFEATAnte Jelavic, who heads the hard-line Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), said in Mostar on 17 May that the recent compromise between Croatian soldiers and the Bosnian government is not a setback for his aspirations for Croatian "self-administration," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). Jelavic added that he considers his campaign for self-rule to have had an impact because the Croats' concerns are now being discussed in Washington and Brussels but were not before. He did not say what he will do about putting self-administration into practice, which he had pledged to do by 16 May if the international community did not meet his demands. Some observers feel that Jelavic is trying to ease his party back into mainstream political life and ensure his own future following his failure to win any support for self-administration from the international community or the Croatian government. PM
 TWO SERBIAN SOLDIERS KILLED IN PRESEVO REGIONOne Serbian soldier was killed and five injured in a clash with ethnic Albanian guerrillas near Vranje, which is north of Bujanovac. A doctor said that the soldier died of shrapnel wounds, Reuters reported from Bujanovac on 17 May. The next day, the army said in a statement that one of the five men has since died of his wounds. PM
 YUGOSLAV PRIME MINISTER: NO EARLY EXTRADITION OF MILOSEVICZoran Zizic said in Nis on 17 May that "it would be unrealistic to expect from us to transfer [former President Slobodan] Milosevic to The Hague by the 29 June donors conference. That would be impossible under the present legal framework," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 May 2001). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic added: "It would be really bad if the U.S. did not take part [in the conference], because that may mean no participation of the World Bank and Japan. Such a conference would leave a negative impression. We have one more month to persuade them with our arguments." Both the U.S. and The Hague-based war crimes tribunal insist that Milosevic be sent to The Hague. Croatian President Stipe Mesic has called Belgrade's legal excuses "words for children," noting that Croatia quickly modified its laws following the change of government in early 2000. The Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said in Geneva on 17 May that she expects Milosevic to be arrested "soon" after the Serbian parliament passes new legislation. PM
 INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY PLAYING KEY ROLE IN MACEDONIA?AP reported from Skopje on 17 May that pressure from the international community was decisive in persuading the Macedonian authorities not to end their cease-fire on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). The authorities had pledged to "eliminate" ethnic Albanian guerrillas who did not lay down their arms by noon on that day. In his 17 May speech, President Boris Trajkovski did not specifically say that the deadline has been extended but noted that the truce has produced the desired effect. He did not elaborate. On 18 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service said that there have been no reports of new clashes along the battle fronts in Macedonia. PM
 NATO WARNINGS TO MACEDONIALord George Robertson, the secretary-general of the Atlantic alliance, said in Tirana on 17 May that "the international community will continue to isolate the ethnic Albanian extremists both diplomatically and militarily until they understand that their insurgency cannot and will not succeed -- and that they have to pursue their objectives through political means," RFE/RL reported. He also urged the Macedonian authorities to push ahead with peaceful reforms to improve the lot of the Albanian minority in order to "undermine the political agenda of the gunmen," AP reported. Robertson promised additional military aid to Skopje but did not elaborate. PM
 SOCIAL DEMOCRATS LEAD IN CROATIAN POLL"Jutarnji list" published a poll on 18 May suggesting that the Social Democrats, who are the leading party in the governing six-party coalition, will carry 17 counties in the 20 May local elections. The HDZ will win in three counties and the Istrian Democratic Alliance in one, the poll indicated. After the elections, an extensive reorganization of the cabinet is widely expected. Most observers do not rule out that at least one of the governing parties might leave the fractious coalition. PM
 POSTAL STRIKE IN CROATIAPostal workers went on strike across Croatia on 18 May to demand back wages, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
 ROMANIA TRAILS EU CANDIDATES...Romania is last among all EU candidate countries, having closed only six chapters of the aquis communautaire thus far, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported on 17 May. Two more chapters were opened for negotiations by Romania on that day and the country's chief negotiator with the EU, Vasile Puscas, told Romanian radio that the government intends to close negotiations on a minimum of nine chapters and a maximum of 11 by the end of 2001. MS
 ...DUE TO 'MENTALITY PROBLEMS'?OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin said in Cluj on 17 May that Romania's lagging behind all other EU candidates reflects "less an economic, and more a mentality problem," Mediafax reported. Severin, a former foreign minister, also departed from the official Romanian line on the "Status Bill" currently under debate in the Hungarian parliament, saying he does not believe the passing of the law would generate interethnic tension in Hungary's neighboring countries. "The problems created by the bill reflect a state of mind; are psychological," Severin said, adding that "Hungary is trying to experiment with a solution aimed at introducing [new] mechanisms to ensure the freedom of movement and freedom of labor movement [for ethnic Magyars from neighboring countries]." He said the OSCE should focus its own attention on this problem because "migration policies within the EU are not satisfactory." MS
 SENATOR JOINS DEFECTORS FROM GREATER ROMANIA PARTYSenator Vasile Duta announced on 17 May that he has resigned from the Greater Romania Party (PRM), thus becoming the fifth member of the parliament to leave or be expelled from that formation in 24 hours, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The National Union of the December 1989 Revolutionary Organizations (UNORD) announced it is "withdrawing parliamentary support" from the PRM. UNORD is identical with the Party of Democratic Forces, which merged with the PRM in 1999. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said he is happy that his party is "getting rid of tramps and swindlers." In other news, Social Democratic Party (PSDR) leader Alexandru Athanasiu said he would accept the position of National Council chairman in the envisaged merger of the PSDR and the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, if that position is "the No. 2 position in the party." MS
 ROMANIA TO COMPLETE SECOND NUCLEAR UNIT AT CERNAVODAA contract for finalizing the construction of a second reactor at the Cernavoda nuclear power station was signed on 18 May between the Romanian Nuclearelectrica National Society, the Canadian Atomic Energy of Canada, and the Italian ANSALDO, Mediafax reported. The costs of the construction, which is to last 4 1/2 years, are estimated at $689 million. The first Cernavoda reactor uses the Canadian CANDU technology. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said at the signing ceremony that Romania envisages building a third, "and perhaps even a fourth" unit at Cernavoda. MS
 FORMER ROMANIAN MONARCH BEGINS SEMI-OFFICIAL VISITFormer King Michael was to land in Bucharest on 18 May and dine with President Ion Iliescu the next day, Romanian media reported. The presidential office said the former monarch wants his three-week visit to have a "private character" and that the king will not grant interviews. On 17 May, the Senate approved the bill that would grant the former monarch, along other former heads of state, an official residence and a monthly allowance. The bill was earlier approved by the Chamber of Deputies in a somewhat different formulation and a mediation commission of the two chambers will have to bridge the differences. MS
 SMIRNOV WANTS MOLDOVA TO DENOUNCE ISTANBUL SUMMIT ACCORDSSeparatist leader Igor Smirnov proposed on 16 May to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin that Chisinau should denounce the November 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit agreements. The agreements stipulate the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transdniester. Smirnov said going back on the summit agreements would "promote the solution of the Transdniester conflict," Infotag reported. Voronin told journalists after the meeting that the question of a Russian withdrawal was not discussed at all. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS QUEST TO JOIN UNIONRussia and Belarus will form a single economic space by 2007, and by joining the Russia-Belarus Union, Moldova will be able to receive energy deliveries from those countries at prices considerably lower than world market prices, President Voronin told the Japanese "Sankei Shimbun" daily, according to an ITAR-TASS report of 18 May. He said he considers Russia "a strategic partner" and sees the bringing of "Moldovan-Russian relations to a new stage" as one of his main tasks as president. Voronin also said Moldova should study the reform experience of the Chinese Communist Party. MS
 VORONIN: 'GOD HELP UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS!'In an interview with Infotag on the eve of his 18-19 May visit to Ukraine, Voronin said his country is linked to Ukraine through "our common history and present-day reality" and by the fact that the Ukrainian minority is Moldova's largest. Asked to comment on the recent statement by Ukrainian Communist Party head Petr Symonenko that Ukraine will become the second Communist republic after Moldova in the former Soviet Union, Voronin replied: "This is a domestic Ukrainian affair. Will the Communists [there] be second after us? God help them win! Communists, after all, do not wage the worst policy, do they?" But he assured the interviewer that when he meets Symonenko during the visit "we will not be plotting to export revolution to Ukraine, the more so as the Moldovan Communists have come to power democratically, as acknowledged by the whole world." MS
 MOLDOVAN PREMIER SATISFIED WITH BRUSSELS VISITReturning to Chisinau on 17 May from his negotiations with the EU in Brussels, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said the visit will have "positive consequences for Moldova," Infotag reported. Tarlev said he is particularly satisfied with an accord under which the EU will "ensure Moldova's food security," for which purpose it will earmark 5.5 million euros (some $4.9 million). He said Moldova is the first CIS member to receive this assistance. Under other agreements reached, the EU will render Moldova technical assistance worth 21 million euros and will grant it a 15 million euro credit to support the country's balance of payments. MS
 FORMER BULGARIAN KING NOT RUNNING FOR PARLIAMENTBulgaria's former monarch does not figure on the lists of candidates for the 17 June elections submitted by his National Movement Simeon II to the Central Electoral Commission, BTA reported on 17 May. Citing the daily "Monitor," the agency says King Simeon made up his mind a month ago not to personally run for a parliamentary seat, but announced his decision only on 16 May. According to the daily "Trud," if King Simeon also decides against becoming premier in the case of his party's electoral victory, the most likely candidate for the post would be Stoyan Ganev, the foreign minister under the previous United Democratic Forces cabinet in 1992-1993. Reuters reported on 17 May that the National Movement Simeon II list is "a motley group with almost no well-known politicians," that "includes TV stars, bankers, and lawyers," some of whom have made successful careers abroad. Ganev is currently working in the U.S. MS
 BULGARIA HAS POLIO CASES -- FIRST IN EUROPE SINCE 1998A 13-year-old Romany boy from the Black Sea city of Burgas was found in April to be suffering from polio, AP reported on 17 May, citing World Health Organization sources in Copenhagen. The report said another polio case was discovered in a 2-year-old Romany boy in Yambol this month. These are the first cases of the illness recorded in Europe since November 1998, when the virus was discovered near Turkey's border with Iran. In Bulgaria itself, the last cases of polio were registered in 1991. MS
[C] END NOTE
 RELEASE OF TRANSDNIESTER PRISONER FAILS TO EASE TENSIONS WITH ROMANIABy Eugen Tomiuc
The leaders of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region on 5 May released Ilie Ilascu after nine years in jail for alleged terrorist acts.
Ilascu's release came as a surprise even though Moldova's new Communist president, Vladimir Voronin, had said after his election on 4 April that resolving the conflict between Moldova and pro-Russian Transdniester and freeing Ilascu were among his top priorities.
Ilascu and several other pro-Romanian political activists were arrested in Transdniester's capital Tiraspol during the 1992 armed conflict between Moldovan security forces and pro-Russian separatist militias. He was sentenced to death one year later by a self-styled court in Tiraspol after being convicted of terrorist acts, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Ilascu was twice elected to Moldova's parliament while in prison.
Despite protests from Romanian politicians, human-rights groups and international organizations, the Moldovan government made no move to release Ilascu. It was only after the pro-Russian Communists' accession to power in Moldova in February and the election of President Voronin that he was finally freed.
Immediately after his release, Ilascu met with Voronin in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. Ilascu said that he had been told that three other prisoners (Alexandru Lesco, Andrei Ivantoc, and Tudor Popa), who had been sentenced to jail terms together with him and were still in prison, would be released shortly.
Later, in an interview with RFE/RL, Ilascu said that Transdniester's security chief, Vladimir Antyufeyev-Shevtsov, had told him prior to his release that he had to observe several conditions, including withdrawing his legal action against Russia and Moldova at the European Court of Human Rights.
"[Antyufeyev-Shevtsov] told me the conditions under which I could be released: First, not to seek revenge. Second, not to lay hands on a weapon ever again. Third, not to take legal action against anyone, including those from Chisinau who contributed to my arrest. And fourth, to withdraw my suit from [the European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg. I, of course, said I will not observe any condition."
Ilascu was one of the central figures in the short but bloody 1992 war between the new Moldovan state and its eastern Russian-speaking Transdniester region. The conflict left several hundred people dead and ended with a Russia-mediated settlement.
A narrow stretch of land along the left bank of the Dniester River (Nistru, in Romanian), Transdniester had effectively broken away from Moldova in 1990, a year before the then-Soviet republic declared independence from the USSR. At the time, many in Transdniester feared that Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania. Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, and almost two-thirds (65 percent) of its 4.5 million people speak Romanian.
As a militant supporter of Moldova's reunification with Romania in Transdniester, Ilascu had long been at loggerheads with the local pro- Moscow leadership. He was arrested in June 1992, shortly after the war broke out, and charged, among other things, with the killings of pro- Russian officials. Ilascu was reportedly tortured and subjected to mock executions before his death sentence was commuted to life by separatist leader Igor Smirnov.
Ilascu told RFE/RL that he was detained with the tacit consent of Moldova's central leadership, which had never shown enthusiasm for reunification with Romania. Ilascu says he thinks it was Romania -- which currently holds the rotating chair of the OSCE -- that finally secured his release.
"I could have been released as early as 1992 or 1993, but [first Moldovan president Mircea] Snegur categorically did not want it. [Petru] Lucinschi, [president between 1996-2001,] categorically did not want it, either. But now, a new situation has been created -- and not by [President] Voronin. It was kept secret, but I can now declare that I am free due to the Romanian leadership's efforts," Ilascu said.
But the day after Ilascu's release Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz was quoted as saying he was set free only after Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's intervention. Some analysts also say that it was Russia, rather than Romania, that played the decisive role in procuring Ilascu's release.
Last year, while still in prison, Ilascu acquired Romanian citizenship and was elected to Romania's Senate. Shortly after his release, he left Moldova and took up his parliamentary seat in Bucharest, where he was given a hero's welcome by fellow legislators as well as by Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.
But Ilascu says he will not become actively involved in Romanian politics, which he considers "rather dirty." He also says, however, that he will remain a supporter of Moldova's reunification with Romania, which he still considers feasible.
Although Ilascu is out of prison, a final settlement of Transdniester's political status is still far off. Little has been achieved by international mediation under OSCE auspices, and Russia still keeps some 2, 500 troops and 40,000 tons of ammunition in the region.
Moldova says it will only grant the breakaway region autonomous status, while the Transdniester leadership wants a loose confederation of two sovereign and independent states.
U.S. analyst Charles King says that Ilascu's release may actually strengthen Transdniester's position on independence from Moldova.
"I think the release of Ilascu probably in fact strengthens the statehood of Transdniestria," King said. "Smirnov has now shown himself to be a magnanimous leader with whom one can negotiate. It's clear he is the one who controls the levers of justice -- such as they are in Transdniestria -- and I think, if anything, this strengthens the sense of statehood and independence the Transdniestrians have long claimed."
In Tiraspol on 16 May, Transdniester leader Smirnov and Moldovan President Voronin signed a number of cooperation agreements, including recognition of each side's official documents -- a tentative first step toward larger autonomy for the breakaway region.
But bilateral relations remain tense. Smirnov said he will not release the other three Moldovan prisoners unless Moldova apologizes for what he called "the 1992 aggression" against Transdniester and pays $77 million in war damages.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty