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US, EU Ban Travel for Officials in Separatist Region of Moldova - 2004-08-26

The United States and the European Union Thursday imposed travel sanctions against 10 more officials of the separatist Transnistrian region of Moldova. The officials are blamed for the recent closure of Moldovan-language schools in the heavily Russian-speaking area.

In a coordinated move, the United States and the EU have banned the issuance of travel visas to 10 officials of the breakaway Transnistrian regime, in response to what are described here as "recent provocative actions" by the local leadership.

Transnistria, a narrow sliver of territory on Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine, declared itself independent with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and fought a brief war with the Moldovan government the following year.

Efforts to negotiate the reunification of the country have foundered, and the long-running crisis worsened last month when Russian and Ukrainian-speaking separatists forcibly closed several Moldovan-language schools in the area.

In a written statement, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States and the EU strongly condemn the Transnistrian leadership for their recent actions.

These, he said, include the harassment and isolation of students in an orphanage, and efforts to impede delivery of food and water to them by UNICEF and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

Mr. Ereli said the actions are part of a "wider pattern of Transnistrian intransigence" in both the political settlement talks and in efforts to complete Russia's military withdrawal from Moldova.

The spokesman said concern over this "obstructionism" prompted the imposition of a travel ban against 17 senior Transnistrian officials last year, including the region's self-styled president, Igor Smirnov, and his top advisers.

He said by helping foment the current school crisis, the ten additional officials being penalized by the United States and EU share direct responsibility for impeding negotiations to solve the overall separatist dispute.

The 1992 conflict over Transnistria was quelled by Russian troops, who are still stationed in the region despite Moldovan objections.

In a visit to Moldova two months ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called on Moscow to fulfill its five-year-old pledge to withdraw its 1,400 troops and ammunition stockpiles from the disputed area.

Mr. Rumsfeld stressed the U.S. commitment to a "reintegrated sovereign" Moldova, and said the United States and its NATO partners stand by their insistence that Russia honor the withdrawal commitment, made at the 1999 OSCE Summit in Istanbul.