-Romanian lawmakers expressed support for reunification with neighboring Moldova in a symbolic vote on Tuesday intended to highlight close historic ties, but the speaker of Moldova's own parliament said his country cherished its independence.

Romania's parliament was holding a special session to mark the 100th anniversary of Moldova joining the then-kingdom of Romania after World War One.

Moldova was then annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and became an independent state in 1991.

The small, landlocked country is politically divided between supporters of closer ties with Moscow and those who want Moldova eventually to follow Romania, its much larger southern neighbor, into the European Union and NATO.

Most Moldovans speak Romanian and have close cultural ties with Romania but the country also has a large minority of Russian speakers.

"Romania's parliament... considers as fully legitimate the desire of those citizens of the Republic of Moldova who support the unification of the two states," the resolution backed by lawmakers said.

"We underline that such an act would depend on their will and we declare that Romania and its citizens are, and will always be, ready to welcome any organic move to reunification by Moldovan citizens as an expression of their sovereign will."

Barely a fifth of Moldovans favor reunification with Romania, according to an opinion poll conducted in December by the Moldovan Institute for Public Policies, an independent think-tank.