EU keeps visa ban hanging over Moldova breakaway leaders

European Union member states on Monday kept the threat of a visa ban hanging over the leaders of the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, as they called for talks on the status of the rebel province to resume.

Moldova gained independence from the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Transnistria, a largely Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking area, declared its independence from the Romanian-speaking majority of the country, but its move has never been recognized internationally.

On Monday, EU states extended a visa ban on Transnistria’s leaders until September 2011, but decided to keep it suspended for six months, ‘to encourage progress in reaching a political settlement to the Transnistrian conflict,’ a statement released in Brussels said.

Negotiations on the final status of the breakaway zone have been running since the early 1990s under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but have made slow progress, with the EU repeatedly expressing frustration at what it sees as Transnistrian non-cooperation.

In 2003, the bloc imposed visa bans on 19 top Transnistrian officials, including self-proclaimed president Igor Smirnov, in a bid to bring the leadership back to the negotiating table.

In February, the EU decided to suspend those bans as part of package designed to encourage a return to talks. Since then, diplomats say that Transnistria’s leaders have appeared to show more desire to compromise, making the EU eager to encourage a thaw.

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