EU diplomats trying to verify reports of Moldova abuses
EU diplomats in Moldova are trying to verify reports of gross human rights violations in the aftermath of anti-government protests, with Brussels stressing the need for engagement with its eastern neighbour for now.
An open letter from the mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, circulated on Tuesday (14 April) showed disturbing photos of 23-year old Valeriu Boboc, a protester apparently beaten to death by police following post-election riots last week.
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The letter says up to 800 mostly young people have gone missing in the past six days, in contradiction to official reports of 200 arrests.
A second plea signed by Moldovan civil rights lawyers and a representative of the Soros Foundation says detainees were snatched by plain clothes police, beaten with clubs and bottles of water, stuffed 28 to a cell and denied food for up to two days.
"We urge Your Excellencies to make an official visit to Moldova as soon as possible to assess the situation 'on the ground'," the text, addressed to the European Commission, the Czech EU presidency and EU top diplomat Javier Solana, said.
The allegations of "torture" come atop a widely-documented crackdown on media, which has seen parts of the internet and mobile phone networks shut down, video cameras smashed, local journalists fleeing into hiding and international press denied entry on the border.
Mr Solana's special envoy to Moldova, Hungarian diplomat Kalman Mizsei, has been in Chisinau for the past week on a mission to establish a dialogue between government and opposition forces and to gather facts.
Mr Solana and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin during a phone conversation at the weekend also discussed the possibility of sending a more formal EU fact-finding mission to Moldova in the future.
The proposal has not yet made it onto the agenda of the EU's first post-Easter holiday meeting on eastern European affairs, the "COEST" working group - a regular gathering of low-ranking diplomats from the 27 member states.
But Moldova neighbour Romania says it will make the human rights question a top priority in upcoming EU events, including at a regular meeting of EU foreign ministers on 27 April.
"The allegations against Romania are used to take away attention from the real problems in Moldova - the economic situation, which is not encouraging, and the result of the elections, which seems to be incorrect," a Romanian official told EUobserver.
President Voronin says Romanian secret agents in Moldova, Europe's poorest country, tried to orchestrate a coup d'etat in the form of mass protests after his Communist party narrowly won a general election.
The opposition says the elections were rigged and that government provocateurs hijacked a peaceful, spontaneous protest to spark violence, giving authorities a pretext to impose harsh controls.
The vote is to be recounted on Wednesday. EU officials in Chisinau say the atmosphere is "calm," but some opposition groups have urged a boycott of the recount in favour of a second vote instead.
The EU last month included Moldova in its "Eastern Partnership" scheme, an initiative to upgrade relations with six post-Soviet neighbours, with President Voronin initially expected to take part in a special EU partnership summit in Prague on 7 May.
The Czech EU presidency and the European Commission say the decision on who to personally invite to the event will be made closer to the date. But both have so far stressed the need to engage with problematic governments.
"The events in Moldova show that it's all the more important for the EU to have some leverage in the region," a Czech diplomat said.
"Despite the crisis, the situation is (still) better than in Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (though deteriorating fast)," European Council on Foreign Relations analyst Nicu Popescu wrote in his blog for EUobserver.
"The neighbourhood is so bad that Voronin will still make an 'Eastern Partner,' though a worse one than before."