MOSCOW -- President Mircea Snegur of Moldova imposed a state of emergency on the former Soviet republic yesterday, ordering his forces to take the offensive against Russian and Ukrainian separatists but acknowledging that it may bring civil war to his country.
Mr. Snegur, declaring that all efforts at a political settlement had failed in the escalating, two-year conflict, told his nation, "As God as my witness, I never wanted bloodshed, (but) the hour has come when we can no longer delay putting our own house in order in the way that we consider proper."
In imposing the state of emergency, Mr. Snegur ordered Moldova's police force and embryonic army to "liquidate and disarm the illegitimate armed formations" in the secessionist "Dniestr Moldavian Republic" in eastern Moldova, where Russians and Ukrainians fear reunification with neighboring Romania.
"The decree is quite clear -- they must surrender their arms," said Dumitru Corlateanu, the spokesman for the Moldovan Interior Ministry. "If they don't, only one option remains -- to make them do so by force. And we will have to use force. The conflict has gone too far."
The Dniestr leadership responded with an immediate call to arms, warning its supporters that a full-scale Moldovan attack was now likely in an attempt to crush their breakaway effort to establish a separate state.
An overnight curfew was imposed on Dniestr's 600,000 people.
"Plainly, this decree is a declaration of war and the establishment of a dictatorship in Moldova," said Valery A. Litskai, an assistant to Igor Smirnov, the Dniestr president.
More than 50 people have been killed in clashes this month between the ethnic Romanians who make up two-thirds of Moldova's 4.3 million people and the Russian and Ukrainian militias that support the Dniestr Moldavian Republic, which was proclaimed after a regional referendum in December.
Most of Moldova's ethnic Romanians favor eventual integration with Romania, though the manner and speed is debated. In response, Russians and Ukrainians have sought independence for the Trans-Dniestr region, which has most of Moldova's industry and its best farmland.
Part of the Russian empire before the Bolshevik revolution, Moldova decided in a 1918 referendum to join Romania, but it was taken back by the Soviet Union under the same 1939 pact with Nazi Germany that also gave Moscow the Baltic states. The Trans-Dniestr region, however, was never part of Romania.