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    Russia, Estonia to discuss human rights, border treaty

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    MOSCOW, February 9 (RIA Novosti, Irina Chumakova) - Russian and Estonian diplomats are meeting Thursday to discuss the rights of ethnic minorities in the Baltic country and a common border treaty, a Russian foreign ministry official said.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov said the situation of ethnic Russians in Estonia, which has been one of the most controversial matters between the two countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union, was one of the most important aspects of bilateral relations.

    "Unfortunately, commitments on securing human rights within the European Union under the Joint Statement on EU Enlargement and EU-Russia Relations, signed [in Brussels] April 27, 2004, remain unfulfilled," he said.

    Russia had expected the EU's help in settling the ethnic-minorities problem according to European standards, especially considering that the Baltic states are EU members.

    Many people from the large ethnic Russian population in Latvia and Estonia have been assigned "non-citizen" status, which denies them a national passport and other citizenship rights. However, the concept of "non-citizen" status does not exist under EU law, or under the Schengen Treaty, an agreement among European countries on common immigration policies and a border system.

    "Actually the main thing is that Riga and Tallinn should accept the recommendations of the European Council, the OSCE, and the UN to eliminate non-citizen status and grant ethnic minorities basic political and socio-economic rights," Titov said.

    The diplomat said Moscow was hopeful about opening new talks with Estonia on land and sea border treaties but expected Tallinn to give up its political demands.

    The Russian and Estonian foreign ministers signed the treaties on common borders on May 18, 2005, and the Estonian parliament ratified the documents on June 20, but with additional demands linked to the 1920 peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Estonia. On September 6, Russia notified Estonia that it was revoking its signature from the treaties because the 1920 document was no longer valid.

    "Russia was forced to withdraw its signature from [initial] documents," Titov said, adding that the ratification law contained unacceptable statements and irrelevant references considered controversial even by Estonian political figures.

    Relations between Russia and Estonia have been tense since the Soviet Union collapsed, with Estonia accusing Russia of 50-year occupation and Russia criticizing the Baltic republic for discrimination against ethnic Russian residents.

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