United Nations special envoy to Crimea Robert Serry cut short his mission to the disputed region Wednesday after he was threatened by unidentified pro-Russian gunmen and later heckled by protesters, officials said.
Serry, who had been sent to the tense Black Sea peninsula by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, was confronted by armed men outside the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Crimea’s capital Simferopol, the United Nations said.
Prevented from returning to his vehicle and warned “he should leave Crimea,” Serry sought refuge in a local cafe to phone the mission and alert them and then left on foot for his hotel after his safety was assured.
He was later driven to the airport and boarded the first flight out of the region — to Istanbul.
An assistant told AFP by phone from the car on the way to the airport: “He’s fine. The self-defence militias in Simferopol have guaranteed his security.”
Serry was expected to travel on to Kiev.
He “will shortly return to Kiev to continue his mission, which was cut short by today’s incident,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement.
U.N. deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson, who was also in Ukraine on Wednesday, said via a video link: “He is in good shape physically but he feels threatened.”
Some initial reports had spoken of a kidnapping but the United Nations quickly denied that.
Still, Sergei Aksyonov, the newly installed pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, was quoted by Russian agency RIA Novosti justifying the threats made against Serry, saying: “We did not send them an invitation.”
“They did not warn us of their arrival. The usual procedure in these instances was not followed,” he said of the UN mission.
A former Dutch ambassador to Kiev who was travelling with a U.N. colleague, Serry had arrived only Tuesday in the tense Crimean peninsula, which has come under de facto control by Russian forces.
He had already aborted a trip to Crimea last week, saying tensions made it impossible to visit the peninsula.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council opened an investigation into the incident.
“This is an unprecedented incident,” Andriy Parubiy, the NSDC’s secretary, was quoted by Interfax-Ukraine news agency as saying in an interview with Channel 5 television.
“Even pirates in Somalia do not abduct negotiators, those who come with an observer mission and a negotiation mission,” he said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]