Separatists demount metal barrier they erected outside Moldovan village of Cocieri

Separatists have dismantled a metal fence they erected outside a Moldovan village that had forced residents to cross the frozen Dniester River to reach the rest of the country, authorities said Tuesday.

The village of Cocieri , in the Dubasari region, is located on the eastern bank of the River Dniester along with the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester, while most of Moldova is on the west river bank.

To reach the west bank, Cocieri villagers normally crossed a bridge near a Trans-Dniester hydroelectric plant. Last week, access to the bridge was blocked by a 2-meter-high (7-foot-high) fence erected outside the plant, apparently to keep nonworkers away.

Grigore Policinschi, the government representative for the Dubasari region, said late Monday that the fence had been dismantled. He said that eight Trans-Dniester militia were patrolling the area where the fence had been.

"Probably the separatists realized that the fence was seriously breaking the (a 1992) agreement (between Moldova and the separatists) and they decided not to block people's access," he said.

Viktor Shanin, a separatist official, was quoted by the Trans-Dniester Lenta PMR news agency as saying that the barrier had not blocked residents' access, calling it "a protection fence."

In Moldova , however, the move was seen as an attempt to limit villagers' movement, as Trans-Dniester has said Cocieri should be part of its region.

Cocieri villagers wanting to reach the western side had been forced to walk across the frozen river.

Trans-Dniester, a region inhabited largely by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, broke away from Moldova in 1992, after a war that killed 1,500 people. It is not recognized internationally, but receives strong support from Russia , which maintains a force of about 1,500 troops there.

Representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe traveled to the barrier to examine the situation. The OSCE is one of the mediators in talks in Moldova aimed at resolving the dispute between the government and the separatists, reports the AP.

D.M.