herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Pressure mounts on Putin as crash bodies piled into train

Dozens of bodies from the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed in eastern Ukraine were loaded into refrigerated wagons at a rebel-held railstation to be sent home for burial.

But their departure from the war zone was delayed as Ukrainian officials and rebels traded blame over why the train had not yet set off and where or when international investigators would be able to check it.

Western officials have voiced concern about the handling of the remains of the 298 people killed when the airliner was shot down last week.

More than half the victims were Dutch and the Netherlands foreign minister has said his country is "furious"to hear bodies were being "dragged around".

US Secretary of State John Kerry said what was happening at the crash site was "really grotesque" and called on Russia to ensure investigators are allowed access to the area.

"Drunken separatists have been piling bodies into trucks and removing them from the site," Kerry said on CBS.

After lying for two days in the summer heat, the bodies had been removed from a large swathe of the crash site by Sunday, leaving only bloodstained military stretchers along the side of the road.

Emergency workers, who have to navigate reporting both to the authorities in Kiev and the rebels who control the crash site and other areas in the Donetsk region, will now need to pick through the debris spread across the Ukrainian steppe.

Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile at Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 33,000 feet above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny shooting down the plane. All those onboard the flight - 283 passengers and 15 crew - were killed.

A wave of international outrage over how the bodies of the plane crash victims were being handled came amid fears that the armed rebels who control the crash site could be tampering with the evidence there.

Donetsk rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, said the bodies recovered from the crash site would remain in refrigerated train cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, nine miles from the crash site, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.

"The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive," Borodai said.

He also said the plane's black boxes have been recovered and will be handed over to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Borodai said he was expecting a team of 12 Malaysian experts and that he was disappointed at how long they had taken to arrive. He insisted that rebels had not interfered with the crash investigation, despite reports to the contrary by international monitors and journalists at the crash site.

French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed 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 tomorrow.

Ukraine says Russia has been sending sophisticated arms to the rebels, a charge that Moscow denies.

The US embassy in Kiev issued a strong statement pointing to Russian complicity in arming the rebels, saying it has concluded "that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine".

rocket launchers

It said over the weekend of July 12-13, "Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles, including tanks armoured personnel carriers artillery, and multiple rocket launchers" to the separatists. The statement also said Russia was training separatist fighters, including on air defence systems.

The rebels have been strictly limiting the movements of international monitors and journalists at the crash site, which is near the Russian border,

Journalists saw reeking bodies baking in the summer heat last Saturday, piled into body bags by the side of the road or still sprawled where they landed in the verdant farmland in eastern Ukraine after their plane was shot out of the sky.

By yesteray morning, journalists saw no bodies and no armed rebels at the crash site. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts. Heavy machinery was seen moving plane debris around.

There was no immediate word on the bodies of the 102 other plane victims, but Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said some bodies have likely been incinerated without a trace.

Alexander Pilyushny, an emergency worker combing the crash site for body parts said that it took the rebels several hours to cart away the bodies.

Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a duty officer at the train station in Torez, said emergency workers loaded plane victims' bodies into five sealed, refrigerated train cars.

He said the priority now was on recovering bodies.

hnews@herald.ie

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