Monday 18 December 2017

Train carrying bodies of victims leaves war zone

THE bodies of those killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash have reached Ukrainian government-controlled territory, leaving a war zone en route to the Netherlands after delays and haphazard treatment that put pressure on European foreign ministers to impose tougher economic sanctions on Russia.

The crash site itself, in farmland held by the pro-Russian separatists whom the West accuses of shooting down the plane, remained unsecured five days after the disaster - another source of frustration for officials around the world eager to establish what happened.

The crash last week in eastern Ukraine has heightened diplomatic tensions over the conflict in Ukraine and focused anger at Russia, from Washington to EU headquarters in Brussels to protesters in Malaysia. But Russian president Vladimir Putin has remained combative, lashing out at Ukraine's military yesterday for trying to dislodge the rebels.

After a 17-hour journey from the town of Torez in rebel territory, the train carrying the bodies pulled into a station in Kharkiv, a government-controlled city where Ukrainian authorities have set up their crash investigation centre. The train gave a low-pitched blast from its horn as the grey corrugated refrigerator cars slowly rolled through weed-choked tracks on to the grounds of a factory where the bodies were being received.

Government spokesman Oleksander Kharchenko said Ukraine would do its best to send the bodies to the Netherlands today. Of the 298 people who died aboard the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight, 193 were Dutch.

But Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte says his government aims to have the first bodies returned today. "It is our aim - and at the moment our expectation - that some time tomorrow the first plane carrying victims will leave for Eindhoven," he said yesterday.

Rutte said the identification of some bodies will be quick. But he has warned grieving families of victims of last Thursday's crash that the identification of some others could take "weeks or even months".

In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers were discussing what action to take in response to the disaster. Europe and the United States have imposed targeted economic sanctions against Russia for supporting Ukraine's five-month insurgency that began after pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by protesters in February.

In Moscow, Putin said Russia would do "everything in its power" to facilitate the investigation including putting pressure on the rebels. But he said that "was not enough" to resolve the situation.

The rebels control a swathe of territory in two eastern provinces and have battled Ukrainian troops with heavy weapons including tanks and missile launchers that the West says came from Russia. Russia denies supporting the insurgency.

Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin yesterday insisted the insurgency is made up of members "of Russian security services, who were trained with Russian money with Russian weapons to destabilise the eastern Ukraine and at the end of the day, the whole Ukraine".

"If it succeeds, it will be a blow for the whole continent," he said.


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