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Published: Friday March 7, 2014 MYT 9:10:08 AM
Updated: Friday March 7, 2014 MYT 9:11:07 AM

Senior U.N. official plans to visit Ukraine's Crimea

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, plans to visit western and eastern Ukraine soon, including the pro-Russian Crimea region, where another U.N. envoy was forced out earlier this week, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The announcement comes after U.N. representative Robert Serry had to abandon a mission to Crimea on Wednesday. He was stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a hostile crowd shouting "Russia! Russia!" The Dutch diplomat later flew to Istanbul before returning to Kiev.

In a summary of remarks U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson made via video link for the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. press office said Simonovic was already in Ukraine and would "visit the East, West and South of the country, including Crimea, to evaluate the current human rights situation."

A group of international observers was prevented from entering Crimea on Thursday by men in military fatigues, Poland said.

There have been various allegations of rights abuses in Ukraine coming from all side in the crisis.

The new Kiev government says former President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally who was ousted on February 22 after months of protests, was guilty of rights abuses and murder for ordering a violent crackdown on protesters that left more than 80 people dead.

Russia and pro-Russian Crimean authorities have accused the opposition and new government of human rights abuses, including threats and harassment of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. Western powers and Kiev say there is no evidence for those allegations.

Serry, currently the U.N. envoy for the Middle East peace process and a former Dutch ambassador to Ukraine, will be leaving Ukraine later this week, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.

RUSSIAN ISOLATION?

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was asked about suggestions that the armed men who urged U.N. envoy Serry to get out of Crimea were Russians.

"I don't know exactly," he said about their likely nationality. Referring to Eliasson's description of the men as a mixed group with different types of clothing, some armed and some unarmed, Churkin said: "It does not sound like it was a group of Russian soldiers on the basis of this description."

Crimea's parliament on Thursday voted to join Russia, and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum in 10 days' time in a dramatic escalation of the crisis that drew sharp criticism from the United States.

The Security Council's closed-door session on the crisis was the fourth since last week.

Again the 15-nation body failed to agree on any action and the remarks by ambassadors after the meeting highlighted the stark differences in views held by Western powers and Russia, which has a major Black Sea naval base on the Crimean Peninsula.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters after the meeting that it was unlikely the council would agree on a statement or resolution on Ukraine in the coming days, despite the Kiev government's calls for action.

"But we do not rule out presenting a resolution in the Security Council at any time," he said. "We are watching developments extremely closely and we would expect the Security Council to meet again over the next few days."

Despite the council's inability to act on the Ukraine crisis - Russia is a permanent veto-wielding member - U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said there was value in the council sessions.

"I think there is utility in coming together in order to highlight, particularly in these public meetings, the extent of Russia's isolation as it takes the moves that it has taken," she said.

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