MOSCOW — Thousands of ethnic Moldavians attacked checkpoints on the frontier with Romania today, vowing to "wipe border posts off the face of the Earth," Tass news agency reported.
The militants, who seek closer ties to Romania, threatened to kill border guards and their families unless the Kremlin withdraws troops sent to Moldavia last week to enforce a state of emergency, Tass said.
Tass did not mention any casualties. It said the militants threw stones and set fire to a fence but relinquished control of the two checkpoints after speaking with Moldavian leaders.
Part of Moldavia was Romanian territory until it was annexed by the Soviets during World War II. Some ethnic Moldavians, many of them Romanians by birth or descent, want to secede from the Soviet Union and rejoin Romania. However, the Gagauz, an ethnic minority numbering about 150,000, want to secede from Moldavia.
Today's border unrest was the first reported violence since the Gagauz minority began its secession drive last month.
Romania's president, meanwhile, told Austrian television that his country has no designs on Soviet Moldavia. Ion Iliescu, in comments recorded before the attacks on the border checkpoints, said Romanians are concerned about ethnic Romanians in the Soviet Union but do not seek to revise the borders.
Tass said 3,000 militants stormed the border checkpoints. However, the independent news agency Interfax put the number of militants at 7,000.
"The militants pelted the Stoyanovka checkpoint with stones and then set the fence around it on fire," Tass said. Stoyanovka is a town on the border with Romania.
Moldavian leaders flew to the scene and persuaded the militants to surrender the two checkpoints they were blocking, Tass said without providing details. It did not say if both checkpoints were in Stoyanovka.
The Gagauz, descendants of Christians who fled religious persecution in Turkey 160 years ago, claimed control over part of Moldavia in October. They feared rising nationalism and were angry over a law making Moldavian the republic's official language.
The militants who attacked the frontier checkpoints today also threatened to go to the Moldavian capital of Kishinev "to restore order," according to Tass.