March 18, 2014 / 10:59 AM / 6 years ago

Shots fired, officer taken from Ukraine base in Crimea

KIEV (Reuters) - Armed men came to a Ukrainian military airfield in the Crimean peninsula, fired shots in the air and took away the base’s commanding officer, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

The incident late on Monday at Belbek airport just outside the naval port of Sevastopol came one day after the southern Ukrainian region voted in a referendum to join Russia in a vote branded by Ukraine and the West as illegitimate.

“Unknown armed people came to the base late on Monday, shots were fired in the air and the commanding officer was taken away in an unknown direction,” Vladislav Seleznov, a Ukrainian military spokesman, told Reuters.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, a group of about 30 members of the so-called ‘Crimean Self-Defense’ came to a compound of apartment blocks that houses families of Ukrainian servicemen and took its commander away, Seleznov said.

“They were there about 30 minutes ... They took away the commander of the compound, Lt. Colonel Vladislav Nechiporenko, in a yellow mini-van,” he said.

The two incidents could not be independently verified.

Seleznov could not say whether the incidents amounted to a violation of last week’s truce in Crimea reached between the defense ministries of Ukraine and Russia that is scheduled to last until March 21.

On Monday, Crimean parliamentary speaker Vladimir Konstantinov said Ukrainian military units in the region would be disbanded, although he said personnel would be able to remain on the Black Sea peninsula.

Last week, Sergei Aksyonov, the leader of Crimea’s separatist government, said the fate of Ukrainian troops in the area would depend on whether they switch allegiance to Russia. Those who refused would have to leave, he said, adding they would be offered safe passage out of Crimea.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin told Russia’s parliament Moscow would move forward with procedures to annex Crimea following Sunday’s referendum, in which a Soviet-style 97 percent of voters were declared to have voted to return to Russian rule after 60 years as part of Ukraine.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Gareth Jones

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