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Violence Increases in Moldova

By Fred Hiatt
The Washington Post

MOSCOW

Ethnic violence escalated on the edges of the former Soviet Union yesterday, with deaths in Moldova and intensifying combat between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Ex-Soviet troops began pulling out of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed enclave of Armenians in Azerbaijan, amid fears that all-out war would follow. Russian television showed pictures Monday night of dozens of corpses lying in the snow, victims of what Azerbaijan charged was an Armenian massacre, and of shelling of villages from both sides.

In Moldova, a small new nation near the Romanian border, police confronted a militia loyal to the even smaller Dnestr Republic, an enclave of ethnic Russians within Moldova that refuses to recognize Moldovan independence. Conflicting news reports from the city of Dubossary reported several deaths and injuries as a unit of Moldovan police was disarmed and arrested by ethnic Russian militia, perhaps with the assistance of roving bands of Russian Cossacks.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, long-suppressed ethnic rivalries and national jealousies have broken into the open, often with heavy weaponry stolen, bought or seized from the former Soviet army. Russia, at the heart of the former union, has largely escaped such violence. But its efforts, along with those of the successor Commonwealth of Independent States and of outsiders like Iran, to mediate solutions have met with no success.

Moreover, with conflicts brewing with Ukraine and with would-be nations within Russia like Chechenya and Tatarstan, Russians are not sanguine about avoiding the fate of neighbors on the fringes of the former Soviet Union.

In another sign of tension within the former union, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Vitaly Churkin, accused the Lithuanian ambassador to Washington yesterday of a provocation for suggesting that Lithuanian-Russian borders might eventually have to be redrawn.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who last fall helped broker a cease-fire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan that was never implemented, left yesterday for a brief vacation at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, officials said. They said that Yeltsin's health, the object of recurrent rumors, was good.

More than 1,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes in four years of fighting between Christian Armenians and Moslem Azerbaijanis in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian called the pullout of Soviet troops from the region "poorly thought out" and said it "could further destabilize the situation," especially if Azerbaijan is permitted to take over military equipment left behind.

The Armenians denied Azerbaijani accusations that hundreds of civilians had been massacred in the village of Khojaly. Armenian forces attacked the village last week in an effort to stop shelling from there of the city of Stepanakert.

Reporters in the area reported seeing dozens of bodies, including some of civilians. Azerbaijani officials said Armenian forces began shooting at them when they sought to recover the bodies.

Azerbaijani spokesman Musa Mamedov appealed for world help at a time when "dead bodies of thousands of Azeri women, children and elderly people have covered the woods and mountains, at a time when the moans and sobs caused by sophisticated torture by Lebanese, Syrian and other mercenaries are filling the air," Interfax reported. He accused the Armenians of "cruelty comparable only to that displayed by the Nazis in Guernica and Babi Yar."

But Armenian officials said the entire population of Khojaly was only 1,000, most of whom left before the fighting began.

Russian television reported, meanwhile, that Azerbaijani forces had seized and burned two Armenian villages in Nagorno-Karabakh, with many casualties.