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Ukraine

Armed group threaten UN envoy in Crimea confrontation

As diplomats met in Paris to lower tensions between Ukraine and Russia, a number of incidents on the ground in Ukraine are fanning the flames. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called on both sides to "lower their temperature."

While there have been no indications of outright violence, instances of intimidation and unrest have been reported in Crimea on Wednesday. Robert Serry, a special United Nations envoy in the autonomous Ukrainian region on an observer mission, was threatened by unidentified armed men and told to leave the area.

Serry was in a car when his progress was blocked by a group of gunmen as he departed the naval headquarters in Simferopol. The gunmen said he should head for the airport and leave Crimea. Serry refused and continued on foot, eventually landing in a cafe. The cafe was surrounded by more gunmen, according to a reporter from Britain's ITV who was accompanying Serry. At this point, Serry reportedly agreed to depart Crimea, and the gunmen let him leave the cafe.

The UN has confirmed that Serry left Crimea and will continue his fact-finding mission in Kyiv.

OSCE mission heads to Crimea

The incident comes as an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) heads to Crimea. The OSCE group consists of 35 unarmed military personnel. The mission has been sent at the behest of the government in Kyiv as Western diplomats meet in Paris to discuss the escalating situation between Russia and Ukraine.

Prior to the group's arrival, a photographer from the Reuters news organization said that pro-Russia demonstrators in Crimea had marched on the OSCE building there in an attempt to block it.

Meanwhile in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, a group of youth protesters stormed the city's administrative headquarters on Wednesday and raised a Russian flag over the building. Ukrainian police had previously cleared the regional government building of protesters under the pretense of a bomb threat and had hoisted the Ukrainian flag.

Amid the incidents of unrest in Ukraine, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called on both sides to tone down their actions.

"What is important and urgent is that the principle of unity, security and the sovereign integrity of Ukraine be protected," he said. "I urge all parties to lower their temperature and rhetoric and sit down together to have a constructive dialogue to solve the issue."

mz/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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