UN envoy leaves Crimea under order from armed men

UN envoy leaves Crimea under order from armed men

Credit: Getty Images

LUBIMOVKA, UKRAINE - MARCH 04: Troops under Russian command fire weapons into the air and scream orders to turn back at an approaching group of over 100 hundred unarmed Ukrainian troops at the Belbek airbase, which the Russian troops are occcupying, in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. The Ukrainians are stationed at their garrison nearby, and after spending a tense night anticipating a Russian attack following the expiration of a Russian deadline to surrender, in which family members of troops spent the night at the garrison gate in support of the soldiers, their commander Colonel Yuli Mamchor announced his bold plan this morning to retake the airfield by confronting the Russian-lead soldiers unarmed. The Russian-lead troops fired their weapons into the air but then granted Mamchor the beginning of negotiations with their commander. Russian-lead troops have blockaded a number of Ukrainian military bases across Crimea. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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Associated Press

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 5 at 4:45 PM

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — A special U.N. envoy cut short his mission in Crimea on Wednesday after being threatened by 10 to 15 armed men and ordered to leave the region, where Ukraine and Russia are locked in a tense standoff, U.N. officials said.

After a confrontation at a cafe, envoy Robert Serry was driven to Simferopol airport by the men and was flying to Kiev, Ukraine's capital, where he will continue his fact-finding mission, the officials said.

Before leaving Simferopol, an Associated Press reporter found Serry in the business class lounge of its airport.

"I'm safe. My visit was interrupted for reasons that I cannot understand," the Dutch diplomat said in a statement to AP. He said nothing more.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched Serry to Kiev as a special envoy because he was the Netherlands' first ambassador to Ukraine and knows the country and many key people.

On Friday, Ban asked Serry to go to Crimea as part of the fact-finding mission. Serry, who is currently the U.N. Mideast envoy, initially decided against going after consulting with authorities in the region. But Eliasson said Serry later decided it was important to go to Crimea, given the "dramatic circumstances."

Ukrainian officials reported earlier Wednesday that Serry had been kidnapped. But Jan Eliasson, the U.N. deputy secretary-general, denied that. Eliasson said Serry was threatened by the armed men as he was leaving naval headquarters in Crimea, but was not abducted.

Eliasson said the men ordered Serry to leave Crimea and go to the airport. Serry refused, but he couldn't move because his car was blocked, said Eliasson.

The envoy was later seen in the cafe, as armed men in camouflage outfits stood outside. He then got into a van with the men and was taken to Simferopol airport.

Eliasson, who is in Kiev, spoke to reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York by telephone. He said he had spoken to Serry 20 minutes earlier. Serry "is in good shape physically. He is not kidnapped," Eliasson said.

In the Netherlands, the national broadcaster aired what it said was a brief telephone conversation it had with Serry in which he said, "I am in a difficult situation here in Crimea. At the moment I am trying to find a way out." It was not clear when the call was made.

A crew from Britain's ITV news was with Serry as he sheltered in the cafe.

"My car was blocked and somebody who did not identify himself was telling me that he had orders to bring me immediately to the airport," Serry told the broadcaster. "I refused." He left the car and walked to the cafe, where the armed men outside prevented him from leaving. He eventually left the cafe through a crowd chanting pro-Russia slogans and was driven to the airport.

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Lederer reported from the U.N. in New York. Mike Corder contributed from Amsterdam, Jill Lawless from London and Alexander Olson in New York.

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