Border row flares as Russia quits Estonia

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A ROW over frontiers is souring relations between Estonia and Russia as the deadline approaches for the final withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonian soil. Russian surveyors, map-makers and border guards have spent this month demarcating the frontier in an area of south-eastern Estonia that the government in Tallinn regards as Estonian territory.

Loud Estonian complaints and proposals that the matter should be settled at the International Court of Justice in The Hague have fallen on deaf Russian ears. According to Viktor Zvonkov, deputy chief administrator of Pskov province, which borders Estonia, about 1,000 iron and cement posts will have been put up along the disputed frontier by the end of this year.

The argument suggests that, even after the last Russian soldiers have left Estonia by next Thursday, relations between the two countries will remain thorny. Some Russian military specialists will remain at the Paldiski nuclear-submarine base off the Estonian coast until September 1995, while the two governments are still arguing over the status of Estonia's ethnic Russian minority. Russians make up 30 per cent of Estonia's 1.6 million people.

The border dispute has its origins in the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which led to Stalin's annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940. Even though Russia recognised the restoration of Estonia's independence in August 1991 and has dissociated itself from the pact, President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree last June that ordered the demarcation of the Russian-Estonian border along post-1940 Soviet boundaries.

This signalled Russia's intention to keep a strip of land in the Pechory district - Petseri in Estonian - of south-eastern Estonia. However, Estonia argues that the border should run along the line agreed by Russia and Estonia in the Treaty of Tartu of 1920.

The Estonians say this treaty remains valid, whatever adjustments to the border the Soviet government may have made after the 1940 annexation. After Russian border guards put up the first new border posts last Thursday, the head of Estonia's border-guards department, Tarmo Kouts, said he would order his men to hinder the installation of posts in disputed areas.

Russia seems in no mood to listen to Estonia's protests. The Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Alexander Trofimov, says that Estonian territorial claims based on the Treaty of Tartu are groundless and violate an agreement on bilateral relations that was signed in January 1991.

'They are dangerous because they destabilise the situation on the border as well as in the region as a whole,' the Russian embassy said in a statement this month.

However, Estonia contends that the post-1940 border divides a historically integral region inhabited by members of the small Setu community. The Setu Congress, a local pressure group, says Russia's definition of the border means that Setus on either side of the line cannot easily get together or visit the graves of family members.

MOSCOW - Russia plans to resettle about 50,000 coal miners who have spent most of their lives in remote far northern areas but now face early retirement as pits close down, Reuter reports.

'We do not intend to throw anyone out on the street. No one has been fired,' said Yuri Malyshev, head of the state producers' group Rosugol. 'We have to resettle about 20,000 families from Vorkuta and about 50,000 families as a whole from northern regions,' he said.