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close this bookEthnicity and Power in the Contemporary World (UNU, 1996, 298 pages)
close this folder5. Dynamics of the Moldova Trans-Dniester ethnic conflict (late 1990s to early 1990s)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1 Introduction
View the document2 Historical background
View the document3 Linguistic disputes and growth of ethnic political activism in Moldova
View the document4 First power shift and proclamation of sovereignty
View the document5 From declaring sovereignty to declaring independence
View the document6 The august 1991 coup attempt and the transition to independence
View the document7 Large-scale inter-ethnic violence
View the document8 Bloodshed and conflict settlement in Bendery
View the document9 Socio-political change and inter-ethnic violence
View the document10 Ethno-political legitimacy crisis as transition to violence

8 Bloodshed and conflict settlement in Bendery

On 19 June, a new armed attack by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen on the Bendery city police office provoked the Moldovan government to send formations of their national army to restore Moldovan control in Bendery. For two months the town had been divided into two sectors, controlled by opposing armed groups. Moldovan troops (reportedly some 2,500 soldiers and officers) attacked the northern sector of Bendery, which was controlled by the Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen. Trying to check the rapid arrival of additional guardsmen in support of the Trans-Dniestrians, Moldovan aircraft bombed the bridge connecting the town of Bendery with the highway leading to Tyraspol. Artillery was used by both sides. The command of the 14th Army garrison near Bendery declared its neutrality, but, according to the reports of the Moldovan press, several officers with their soldiers participated on the side of the guardsmen.

The next day, groups of Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and Cossacks, outnumbering the Moldovan forces, arrived in Bendery district. The use of tanks in combat and the support of some officers of the 14th Army determined the outcome of the Bendery battle in favour of the Trans-Dniestrians, who regained control over the larger part of the city. The Moldovan forces withdrew into the suburbs. The three-day combat resulted in 20 killed and 200 wounded on the Moldovan side, and some 300 killed and 500 wounded on the Trans-Dniestrian side. Almost all the city buildings were destroyed by artillery fire (KU, 21, 22 June 1992; IZ, 22, 23, 24 June 1992).

On 22-23 June, leaders of the opposing parties reached an agreement on a cease-fire in Bendery. However, developments became out of control, unleashing a potent wave of inter-ethnic hostilities. Violent clashes were reported in the Dubossary, Bendery, Rybuitsy, Parkany, and Grigoriopol districts. Human losses as of 24 June amounted to 500 dead and 3,500 wounded on both sides since the Bendery battle. The number of Russophone refugees to the Odessa region of the Ukraine totalled 30,000 - three times as many as during the previous months of warfare (IZ, 25 June 1992; KU, 27 June 1992). The number of armed members of military formations reported to be participating in the hostilities was estimated at 15,000 persons from each side, with approximately 400 tanks and armoured carriers and 300 artillery guns and mortars being deployed. By July the total number of refugees exceeded 100,000 (KU, 2, 8 July 1992).

When officers of the 14th Army threatened to ignore the orders of the Russian authorities and to take an active part in the violent conflict on the side of Trans-Dniester, this danger of larger-scale violence compelled the political leaders to search with greater urgency for a way to settle the conflict and restore peace. On 25 June, during the Istanbul conference of the Black Sea countries, a special round of talks was held between the presidents of Russia, Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova. This yielded an agreement to halt the armed confrontation in left-bank Moldova and to undertake effective measures to ensure separation of the opposing armed factions.

The four presidents called on the Moldovan Parliament to reconsider once again the political and juridical status of left-bank Moldova. The same day, the Moldovan Parliament replied that recognition of Trans-Dniester as a separate politico-territorial unit was not for discussion, but it did approve a special act envisaging for Bendery the status of "free city" within Moldova and new legislative guarantees of wide-ranging economic and cultural autonomy for Trans-Dniester within Moldova (IZ, 26, 27 June 1992).

On 8 July, the negotiations between Moldova's deputy minister of defence, the commander of the Trans-Dniestrian guard, the commander-in-chief of the 14th ex-USSR Army, and representatives of the Russian Federation Defence Ministry ended with the signing of a mutual order on cease-fire and disarmament along the entire frontier-line of left-bank Moldova, and the introduction of the CIS armed forces (IZ, 8 July 1992).

A political settlement of the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict would appear to have been reached in the course of intensive Moldova-Trans-Dniester talks, with active participation of the Russian Federation, in late July 1992. On 21 July, in the presence of the Trans-Dniestrian delegation headed by President I. Smirnov, the Russian and Moldovan presidents signed the Moscow Agreement on the principles of peace settlement of armed conflict in Trans-Dniester districts of the republic of Moldova. This accord envisaged the creation of a dividing line in left-bank Moldova between the opposing parties, to be supervised by military observers from Russia, Moldova, and Trans-Dniester. It further stipulated gradual withdrawal of all armed formations, military equipment, and machinery from Trans-Dniester; withdrawal of the 14th Army to the territory of Russia; and the establishment of a special control commission on security in Bendery.

Moldova assumed the obligation to determine and to fix the legal and political status of left-bank Moldova within Moldova and to grant to its population the right to express self-determination if the political status of the independent republic of Moldova should be changed. This compromise may not have resolved the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict completely, but it appears to have been successful in suppressing violence and in providing peace, at least for the time being (IZ, 22 July 1992).