At a summit of the Guuam group (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) leaders on Friday also discussed security issues in the Black Sea region and facilitating the transit of oil to Western Europe.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Guuam wants to expand cooperation with the European Union, which has offered the ex-Soviet countries economic and political assistance as part of a programme to improve the EU's ties with neighbouring countries.

The countries adopted a statement at the end of the summit calling on Russia to fulfil obligations it made at a 1999 summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and withdraw troops and weaponry from Moldova and Georgia.

Call for peace

Also referring to Russia, the statement condemned separatism and the territorial disintegration of the states, and called for "the peaceful resolution and in line with international law of conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan". 

Guuam is urging international law
to resolve regional conflicts

Romanian President Traian Basescu, who took part as an observer, encouraged Guuam countries to develop a strategy to make the Black Sea region more secure. He said conflicts in the region could be resolved by granting limited autonomy to separatist regions in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko presented a plan to help resolve Moldova's Trans-Dniester separatist crisis, which has hampered the country's development since it became independent in 1991. Trans-Dniester, a Russian-speaking province bordering Ukraine, broke away in 1992 after a brief but bloody war that left more than 1500 people dead.

The province is not recognised internationally, but receives strong support from Russia, which considers its location strategic and has about 1800 troops stationed there.

Russian proposal

Russia proposed a plan to give statehood status to Trans-Dniester within a federation with Moldova, but the plan was rejected by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, who instead has offered autonomy.

Yushchenko said Trans-Dniester should remain part of Moldova while benefiting from wide autonomy. Under the plan, observers from the OSCE would monitor the border between Ukraine and Trans-Dniester.

Guuam, created in 1997 to expand cooperation outside the influence of Russia, is expected to get observer status in the UN General Assembly by the end of the year.

Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, who has distanced himself from the group since pro-Western leaders came to power in Ukraine and Georgia, did not take part in the meeting.

Romania and Lithuania's presidents, while not members of the alliance, took part as observers.