Flight MH17: Rebels take control of 219 bodies recovered from debris

Photo PTI
192 bodies & 8 body parts have been loaded onto a refrigerated train in Torez near the crash site. PTI Photo

Kiev, Jul 20 (PTI): Pro-Moscow insurgents today took control of the 219 bodies recovered so far from the debris of the downed Malaysian jet, even as global pressure mounted on Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure unfettered access to the crash site in Ukraine’s rebel-held region.

A total of 192 bodies and eight body fragments had been loaded onto a refrigerated train stationed in the town of Torez near the crash site, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Emergency workers retrieved 27 more bodies from the crash site later, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 298 people was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur as it was downed on Thursday between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk.

It is believed that flight MH17 crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from the rebel-held area. All 298 people on board were killed.

Earlier, reports said the train had left Torez for Donetsk but later it emerged that it was still stationed at Torez.

Pro-Russia separatists are keeping the remains of 192 of those MH17 victims in refrigerated cars on a train, Groysman said, adding that talks are ongoing for their release.

“Jet parts resembling the black boxes were discovered at the crash site,” said Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

The parts would be handed over to “international experts if they arrive”, he said.

Borodai said the fighters had moved scores of bodies “out of respect for the families” and loaded them on to trains where they would be kept in refrigerated carriages until “the experts arrive”.

“We couldn’t wait any longer because of the heat and also because there are many dogs and wild animals in the zone,” he said.

European countries and the US again warned Russia to ensure rescuers and investigators have full and unfettered access to the crash site in rebel-held eastern Ukraine or face further sanctions.

“There’s a stacking up of evidence here, which Russia needs to help account for. We are not drawing the final conclusion here. But there is a lot that points at the need for Russia to be responsible,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC News.

French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed today to demand that Putin force separatists controlling the site to “finally allow rescuers and investigators to have free and total access to the zone.”

A statement from Hollande’s office said if Russia fails “to immediately take the needed measures, consequence will be drawn” at an EU foreign ministers meeting Tuesday.

The Ukrainian government and pro-Moscow rebels have been trading blame for the downing of the airliner.

The smell at the station was unbearable and separatists guarding the grisly cargo had pledged not to move the bodies until “international experts” arrive, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.

OSCE monitors escorted by armed rebels appeared today to have been granted greater freedom to examine the crash site.

Western countries have criticised the pro-Russian rebels in the area for restricting access to the crash site.

Indiscipline and chaos ruled at the crash site in the last two days.

The US State Department said there had been multiple reports of bodies and aircraft parts being removed, and potential evidence tampered with.

World leaders have demanded that Putin use his influence to persuade the rebels to hand over the victims and allow international investigators unfettered access to the crash site.

Raising the prospect of fresh EU sanctions against Russia over the downing of the Malaysian jet, British Prime Minister David Cameron, in an article in The Sunday Times, said the West must “fundamentally change our approach” unless Moscow alters course in Ukraine.

“Russia can use this moment to find a path out of this festering, dangerous crisis. I hope it will do so. But if that does not happen then we must respond robustly,” Cameron wrote.

Earlier, the Ukrainian State Emergency Service (SES) said 380 staff were taking part in the search that stretches across 34 sq km of eastern Ukraine.

Latest figures released by Malaysia Airlines show the plane was carrying 192 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines, and one each from Canada and New Zealand.

Ukraine yesterday claimed it has “compelling evidence” that Russian crew operated the missile system that downed a Malaysian jet with 298 people on board and accused Moscow of helping rebels in trying to destroy evidence.

Kiev also accused Russia of helping pro-Moscow rebels of trying to destroy evidence in the downing of the aircraft.

It complained that “the terrorists” had taken 38 bodies to a morgue in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It said the rebels were also trying to transport the plane’s wreckage to Russia.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday said the crash site was “absolutely chaotic” as he feared interference with the evidence. Twenty-eight Australians were on the flight.

Abbott said recovering the bodies was a priority.


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