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News 14 Jul 17

Transnistria Forcing Young Into Army, Moldovan Report Says

A Moldovan rights organization, Promo-Lex, says the separatist administration in Transnistrian is forcing more and more youngsters to join its armed forces - where some have died in suspicious circumstances.

Ana Maria Touma
A decommissioned tank with the slogan “For the motherland!” sits on a platform in memory of the  1991-1992 Transnistrian War next to an Orthodox Christian shrine in Tirapsol, capital of Transnistria. Photo: Dylan C. Robertson/Flikr

Authorities in Moldova's breakaway Transnistria region continue to force youngsters to enlist in its growing military force, where some of them suffer human rights violations or even get killed, a report released by a human rights organization based in Moldova says.

Experts from Promo-Lex, which is based in Chisinau, say that although the administration in Tiraspol prevents human rights groups from investigating incidents, numerous desertions and suspicious deaths have occurred.

Both the Moldovan and international authorities have taken “a passive attitude towards the violations”, it complains.

“The aggressive promotion of mandatory military service by the administration in the Transnistrian region signals an increased interest in the militarization of the region,” the report reads.

“Enrolling in these structures is tacitly accepted and unanimously tolerated, when it should be deemed as illegal detention,” the report stresses.  

Transnistria, a strip of territory on Moldova's eastern border with the Ukraine, declared its independence in 1990, when the former Soviet republic of Moldova broke away from the USSR.

Its de-facto independence has since been upheld by Russian "peacekeepers" of the 14th Army who still keep 2,000 soldiers in Transnistria. Today, it has a mainly ethnic Russian and Ukrainian population.

Although internationally Transnistria remains part of Moldova, its authorities have exercised no real power there for the past 25 years, since conflict between the pro-Russian separatists and the Moldovan army left at least 800 dead, ending in a ceasefire in 1992.

The problem has defied international efforts to settle it, largely because its continued existence as an unrecognised statelet suits the Kremlin's stategic interests - even more so now that Ukraine has withdrawn from Moscow's sphere of influence.

As Moldovan law criminalizes paramilitary organizations, Transnistrian armed forces are in theory an illegally armed formation.

However, military service is mandatory in the region and evading the call-up is punishable by a 1,700 euro fine, a huge sum in a region where wages average 200 euros per month. Moreover, deserters risk up to 20 years in jail.

The Promo-Lex report says many Transnistrian residents obtain Moldovan or Ukrainian documents to avoid being recruited, and take refuge in Moldova.

Several deserters have accused the separatist army officials of human rights abuses.

The organization notes several reported deaths that appear suspicious in recent years. In 2008, for example, a soldier died in a military base in Transnistria.

While his death was attributed to natural causes by the authorities, the young man’s parents say they saw their son’s body completely disfigured.

In another case, a young man with Ukrainian documents who deserted twice from the Transnistrian forces, accusing his superiors of beating and humiliating him, was found dead a few months later, drowned in the Dniester River.  

More recent cases in 2010 and 2011 have reached the European Court of Human Rights and are underway before the Strasbourg court.

Transnistria set up its own armed forces in 1991 to deter the authorities in Moldova from attacking and overrunning the region.

Currently, the armed forces count between 4,000 and 7,500 troops. They are split into four infantry brigades, located in Tiraspol, Bender, Ribnita and Dubasari. Another 15,000 volunteers are on hand to step in if open conflict breaks out.

Moldova’s army is much the same size, numbering 5,000 to 6,000 troops.

The Transnistrian military train with the Russian peacekeepers of the 14th Army. The most recent joint military exercise took place early in June, despite protests from Chisinau.

Transnistria also stablished a Military Academy this year, where 200 cadets are expected to start courses in the autumn.

According to a report of the separatist official news agency Novosti Pridnestroviya, 700 young men applied to join the Suvorov Military Academy. 

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