Azerbaijan, Moldova torn by ethnic Conflict Russian regiment being withdrawn

March 03, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Ethnic fighting flared in a southwestern splinter of the former Soviet Union yesterday, while ongoing battles brought dozens of new deaths in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where an Afghanistan War hero was dispatched by Russia to withdraw the last of the Soviet troops.

In the breakaway section of the former Soviet republic of Moldova, clashes between separatists and police left four dead and 15 people injured, according to reports from the region, which is near the Romanian border.

Moldovan President Mirca Snegur's spokesmen complained that the unrest was timed to embarrass him as he accepted U.N. membership for Moldova in New York.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, where a bitter territorial dispute has cost the lives of more than 1,000 Armenians and Azerbaijanis since 1988, up to 50 people were reported killed in weekend shelling of the predominantly Azerbaijani town of Shusha.

Gen. Boris Gromov, who led the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and was himself the last man to leave, was charged with bringing out the 366th motorized infantry regiment, the last former Soviet unit left in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Russian Television.

Russia, reluctant to remain embroiled in the ethnic bloodshed unleashed by the Soviet Union's collapse, is withdrawing the regiment, despite the danger that its departure could remove the last buffer between the warring Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the mountainous enclave.

Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan said yesterday that the regiment has been "a stabilizing factor" and its withdrawal was "not well thought out. . . . Taking this division out could further destabilize the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh."

But the regiment had been under orders since late last year not to interfere in the Nagorno-Karabakh fighting and was forced passively to withstand shelling that killed or wounded several soldiers.

Its withdrawal was reported already under way yesterday, with columns of troops and equipment headed out of the mountainous region under heavy cover and with no interference from local militants.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijani accusations mounted of a massacre in the Nagorno-Karabakh town of Khojali, where Azerbaijani officials claim 1,000 people died in an Armenian attack last week.

Armenia denies that anywhere near so many people died when its militants took the town.

But dozens of corpses scattered over the fields of Nagorno-Karabakh lent credence to massacre reports on the Azeri-populated town.

In Moldova, fighting broke out in a secessionist region of 700,000 people known as the Dniester Republic, an area largely populated by Russians who want independence from the ethnic Romanians of Moldova. Moldova refuses to part with it, and fighting has broken out repeatedly over its fate.

Early yesterday, according to Russian agency reports, separatists attempted to storm police headquarters in the city of Dubossary, a strategic spot on the main road to Ukraine and the site of several past clashes.

In the wake of yesterday's fighting, the parliament of the Dniester Republic imposed a state of emergency on the Dubossary region, including a curfew, and Dniester Republic guards took control of the bridges across the Dneister River to prevent attacks from Moldova proper, the Interfax news agency reported.

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