Warning shots as OSCE turned away from Crimea: mission source

8th March 2014, Comments 0 comments

Foreign observers from the OSCE turned away from trying to enter Crimea on Saturday after warning shots were fired as they approached, a source in the monitoring mission told AFP.

The source said several shots were fired in the air as a convoy including the observers' buses approached a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian forces, but added that the shots did not appear directed at the observers.

The source said "probably three shots" were fired, "but not because of us, because of one small car that was in the line sight" between the convoy and the checkpoint.

The source noted the shots were fired as soon as they arrived at the checkpoint, at Armyansk on the western road leading from mainland Ukraine into the Crimea peninsula.

Nobody was injured, the source said, adding that about 40 armed men wearing balaclavas and military fatigues were manning the checkpoint.

It was the third day in a row the monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had tried and failed to enter Crimea.

On Thursday they were turned away from the checkpoint at Armyansk and on Friday, they were barred from entering at another checkpoint at Chongar, on the eastern road to Crimea.

The source said the men at Armyansk seemed more settled on Saturday than during the observers' first attempt.

"The level of self-confidence today of the armed men was much higher than two days ago," the source said.

The OSCE had earlier said its observers would try again to enter Crimea on Saturday, adding that its mission now numbered 54 military and civilian staff from 29 countries.

The unarmed observer mission by the Vienna-based OSCE -- whose 57 members include Ukraine and Russia -- is aimed at defusing tensions in Crimea.

Russian forces have surrounded Ukrainian military bases on the peninsula and local lawmakers have decided to renounce ties with Ukraine and stage a March 16 referendum on switching over to Kremlin rule.

© 2014 AFP

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