The United Nations special envoy to Crimea has been forced to abandon his mission to the tense region after a group of gunmen threatened him and ordered him to leave.
Despite a flurry of diplomatic activity, there has been little progress on resolving the standoff between Russia and Ukraine over the Crimean peninsula.
Seasoned diplomat Robert Serry had been sent to assess the situation for UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He was confronted by between 10 and 15 gunmen outside the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Crimea’s capital Simferopol, and warned he “should leave Crimea”.
After he was prevented from returning to his vehicle, he took refuge in a café where he called his UN colleagues and tried to work out how to get back to his hotel.
A hostile group of activists shouting pro-Russia chants briefly blocked his exit. Mr Serry then left on foot for his hotel after his safety was assured, and he was driven to the international airport.
“He’s fine. The self-defence militias in Simferopol have guaranteed his security,” his assistant told AFP by phone from the car.
“He wants to fly to Kiev but there is no ticket for him yet. He is hoping that he can leave Crimea without further incident.”
UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson said: “He is in good shape physically but he feels threatened.”
Mr Serry, a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, was travelling with a UN colleague and 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.
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The incident came as top diplomats from the West and Russia gathered in Paris to try and map a way out of the crisis in Ukraine.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov put even the starting point of negotiations in doubt, when he denied Moscow had the authority to order troops occupying Crimea back to their bases.
The Kremlin says the soldiers are self-defence units not under Russian command. Western countries want the troops to withdraw to their bases, with an international force deployed to protect ethnic Russians.