United Nations Office In GenevaUN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has emphasised the need for peace and stability in Ukraine’s Crimea region where the announcement of a referendum on joining Russia constitutes a “worrying and serious” development. Lawmakers in the autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea voted Thursday to join Russia and to hold a referendum on March 16 to validate the decision.

The move comes amid rising tensions in the region, where additional Russian troops and armoured vehicles have recently been deployed, and against the backdrop of the protests and violence that have plagued Ukraine since last November. “The recent announcement by the authorities in Crimea that they intend to hold a referendum is a worrying and serious development,” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters here Friday.

“In this regard, the secretary-general urges the authorities in Ukraine, including in Crimea, to treat this matter with calm.” Nesirky said it should be noted that referendums usually have clear rules on national constitutional law that should be looked into “carefully and dispassionately”.

“All concerned should think about the implications of any hasty actions or decisions taken in the heat of the moment. The secretary-general cannot emphasise enough the need for peace and stability in the region,” he added. Nesirky also said that the secretary-general’s senior advisor Robert Serry held consultations with Ukrainian and diplomatic interlocutors in Kiev Friday before leaving the country Saturday.

He will then return to Jerusalem next week where he is based as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. “At this stage, it is not yet known when he will return to Ukraine,” the spokesperson stated.

“But he will continue to assist the secretary-general, as required, in his good offices to promote urgently needed de-escalation and a peaceful political resolution of the country’s current crisis,” Nesirky added. Meanwhile, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic arrived in Ukraine to conduct a preliminary assessment of the human rights situation following the recent developments.