UN envoy to Crimea tells AP: "My visit was interrupted for reasons I cannot understand'

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By TIM SULLIVAN and EDIE LEDERER

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

Later, an Associated Press reporter found Robert Serry in the business class lounge of the Simferopol airport on Wednesday evening.

"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.

Ukrainian officials reported earlier 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 spotted by reporters in a coffee shop, as men in camouflage outfits stood outside. He got into a van with the men, and was taken to Simferopol airport.

Eliasson, who is in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, 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.

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Lederer reported from the U.N. in New York. Mike Corder contributed from Amsterdam.

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