Ukraine accuses rebels of destroying evidence at crash site

Last Updated 19 July 2014, 10:50 IST

Ukraine today accused Russia of helping pro-Moscow rebels of trying to destroy evidence of "international crimes" at MH17 crash site, as Malaysian investigators arrived in Kiev amid calls for access to the area where the jet came down.

Malaysian investigators touched down in Kiev to try to get the bottom of what happened to the jetliner as global shock and outrage mounted over the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet killing all 298 people on board.

"The Ukrainian government officially announces: terrorists with the support of Russia are trying to destroy proof of this international crime," Ukraine's government said in a statement.

The Ukrainian government 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.

The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. It fell between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk.It is believed flight MH17 crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from a rebel-held area. All 298 people on board died.

The Ukrainian government and separatist groups have agreed to create a safety zone around the site where Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH17 crashed. Ukraine Ambassador to Malaysia Ihor V Humenyyi told the Malaysian Bernama news agency that the Ukrainian authorities and the rebels -- currently in control of the territory -- had agreed that no combat action would be carried out in the area of 400 square kilometeres to enable investigations. 

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

Prime Minister Najib Razak today said that Malaysia, as the owner of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, will ensure that the plane's black boxes will not be under the control of any irrelevant quarters.

According to the international law, the owner of the plane has every right for the black boxes, he said.

"We must follow the international law and those who have no rights whatsoever cannot claim or take over control of the black boxes," he told reporters after meeting with families of victims of the MH17 tragedy here.

Najib also said the government was committed to doing its level best to bring home the remains of Malaysian nationals who perished in the crash.

"Right now, our team has arrived in Kiev and we are in the midst of making arrangements to enter the area of the scene in Eastern Ukraine. It is about 400 kilometres away (from Kiev), so there are several procedures that must be adhered to before they can get into the area," Najib said.

He said the authorities were taking every step to ensure the safety of the international team moving into the area, especially the investigation team from Malaysia.

"I am sure everything has been done to ensure the safety of the team," he said.

Najib said he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone late Friday to stress the need for an objective probe into the crash, amid concerns the site was vulnerable to tampering.

"I also told Putin that the site should not be tampered (with) before the team begins its investigation," he was quoted as saying.

Najib's step-grandmother was on board the ill-fated jet, the country's defence minister confirmed today.

Hishammuddin Hussein, a minister, said his step- grandmother was also among those killed.
Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai was to arrive in Kiev soon, the Star daily said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia issued an impassioned plea for the MH17 disaster site in Ukraine to be protected from tampering, saying evidence was being compromised in what it called a "betrayal of the lives that were lost."

"Malaysia is deeply concerned that the crash site has not been properly secured," Transport Minister Liow said.

"The integrity of the site has been compromised, and there are indications that vital evidence has not been preserved in place," he said.

The world community, Ukraine said, must put pressure on Russia to pull back its terrorists and allow Ukrainian and international experts to carry out their inquiry.

Ukraine's government has the authority to investigate the crash, under international conventions, even though the incident took place in rebel territory.

On Thursday, the day the plane tore apart in the sky over Torez, the rebels granted passage to a smaller international team of 21 people from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

But when the OSCE team arrived among the rubble, armed local militiamen greeted them with hostility and throttled their access to the site.

"There didn't seem to be anyone really in control," OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.
Armed men, apparently pro-Russia militants, loosely guarded the area but could not answer the monitors' questions, he said.
(Published 19 July 2014, 10:48 IST)

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