Both sides in Moldovan war 'committed atrocities': A human rights group has condemned political killings in the conflict. Tony Barber reports

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The Independent Online
RUSSIAN and Moldovan forces at war in eastern Moldova have both been guilty of politically motivated killings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, pillage and the use of land-mines in civilian areas, according to the Helsinki Watch human rights group.

While accusing each side of violating humanitarian standards, the New York-based organisation identified the war role of Russia's 14th Army, based in Moldova but under Moscow's control, as a source of concern. 'Russian military equipment and some personnel were the mainstay of the armed conflict in eastern Moldova, sharply escalating human rights abuses,' the group said in a report.

Hundreds of people were killed or wounded last year in battles pitting Moldovan government forces against Slav Russian-speakers who had proclaimed a breakaway 'Dnestr Republic' on the left bank of the Dnestr river. The Slavs were supported by the 14th Army and by Russian volunteers, including Cossacks from the Don and Kuban regions of southern Russia. The war saw some of the heaviest fighting in the former Soviet Union before a ceasefire took hold last August.

'Numerous examples of apparently politically motivated killings took place during and possibly subsequent to the armed conflict, and were undoubtedly perpetrated by individuals on both sides of the secessionist struggle,' Helsinki Watch said.

It cited the case of Teofan Tuntulescu, a teacher in the town of Dubossary whose wife was a well-known opponent of the Dnestr Republic. It quoted a Moldovan human rights campaigner, Stefan Uritu, as saying: 'Tuntulescu died in March from an explosive device that was attached to the handle of his door, clearly meant for his wife. People were throwing rocks at his window - who of us hasn't had his windows broken? He started to run out on to the street, opened the door and was blown up on the spot, right in front of his wife and daughter.'

Alleged victims of Moldovan attacks included Nikolai Ostapenko, a deputy in the Dnestr Republic's assembly who was said to have died last April after machine-gun fire raked his car in the village of Caragas.

Helsinki Watch, which sent two researchers to Moldova in August, condemned the placing of land-mines in civilian areas such as libraries and the courtyards of private homes. It also said Dnestr Republic forces had selected Moldovan doctors, teachers and other professional people for attack to purge the area of its intellectual elite.

One unnamed doctor, from the town of Slobozia, said masked Russian men with machine-guns had burst into his home last May. 'They shot up the kitchen, the television set, all of the rooms . . . They shot me . . . I lost a lot of blood . . . They have operated on me four times. I've lost 10 centimetres (from my right leg).'