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Moldovan separatist leader calls for military readiness

Defender of the Fatherland Day celebrations in Transdniestria

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - The leader of Moldova's pro-Russian separatist Transdniestria region called on its defence and intelligence institutions on Monday to maintain a "high level of military preparedness" and hold regular drills for that purpose.

Transdniestria broke away before the 1991 Soviet collapse and fought a brief war against the newly independent state, one of Europe's poorest countries lying between Ukraine and Romania.

For more than three decades, the sliver of land has remained on Moldova's eastern fringe with little turmoil - 2,000 Russian "peacekeepers" remain on the line separating them.

But tension has been building since Moldova's government introduced a duty in the New Year on imports and exports, part of its drive to join the European Union. The region, dependent on help from Moscow, says the duties hurt its businesses and Krasnoselsky has denounced it as a "mediaeval levy".

"The Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Defence are instructed to regularly hold drills and boost security on state borders through modern technical means," Transdniestria's president, Vadim Krasnoselsky, said in a broadcast address.

Key institutions were told to be "increasingly proactive" in countering military threats and terrorist and extremist activities.

"This is for today, right now," Krasnoselsky said. "And it concerns not only the Defence Ministry, but also the Interior Ministry and state security bodies."

Moldova's Bureau for Reintegration, the body overseeing talks with Transdniestria, said Krasnoselsky's comments were bewildering.

"The basis for Tiraspol's alarm signals is unclear," it said, referring to the main town in the region. "The impression is that these signals exist strictly in a virtual environment."

Moldova's pro-European president, Maia Sandu, has denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine and alleged that Moscow was plotting to remove her, while Moscow accused her of infusing an atmosphere of Russophobia in the country.

Transdniestria, in turn, says Ukraine has plotted to kill its leaders and accused Moldova of training Ukrainian fighters.

A senior Moldovan official last week said the latest round of infrequent talks with Transdniestria, focusing on the new duties, had proved "difficult".

A rally against the tax is to take place this week in Tiraspol. Small protests have taken place along the "border" separating the two sides.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, Editing by Ron Popeski and Stephen Coates)