Chaos in Moldova prompts call for peacekeeping force

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The Independent Online

The European Union is considering sending a military peace-keeping mission to Moldova,which has become a hub of poverty, organised crime and weapons smuggling.

The suggestion of an EU role in the region was made by the Netherlands, which is chairing the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and is keen to achieve a political settlement in Moldova, where relations with a Russian-speaking minority have festered for a decade.

Diplomats in Brussels say they have not ruled out either a military or a peace mission, if a settlement is reached. Two thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent but the industrialised territory, known as Transnistria, is mainly inhabited by Russian and Ukrainian speakers. Ethnic violence broke out in the area after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and led to the introduction of Russian peace-keepers.

Moldova never gained formal independence. Control is exercised by Igor Smirnoff a "warlord" who has links to Russia. The region is in chaos.

Under international laws Russia is committed to withdrawing from Transnistria. One EU official argued that stabilising the region was in the EU's interest, because "the area poses a threat in terms of organised crime, weapons smuggling, human trafficking and possible terrorism".

EU involvement depends on agreement with Russia. "We are not going to go in and try to do something that is not welcome," he added. The Dutch have suggested the EU as one of the organisations that could possibly mount a mission. The OSCE itself does not have a military capability.