Flight MH17: 80 bodies still at Malaysia Airlines crash site
Investigators finally given access to site amid claims that rebels have been laying land mines in the area
Up to 80 bodies are still believed to be at the Flight MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, two weeks after the Malaysia Airlines plane was downed.
The report comes amid growing fears in the West that Russia has been "actively undermining" the international investigation into how the aircraft crashed. Pro-Russian separatists are accused of shooting down the plane on 17 July, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.
Australian and Dutch investigators reportedly reached the crash site today after four days of failed attempts. Heavy fighting between Ukraine forces and the rebels has repeatedly forced the experts to abandon their search for remains and evidence.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said that a new report suggesting up to 80 bodies are yet to be found had made the investigators even more determined to gain access.
The investigation team is also keen to retrieve a large collection of personal items belonging to the victims from a morgue in the rebel-stronghold of Donetsk.
"It's heartbreaking. It's so distressing," she said yesterday after a fourth attempt to gain access failed. "We have the team in place, we have the experts ready to work, and we can't get to the site."
She said her "great fear" was that Russia was "actively undermining this process".
But the Ukraine government has agreed to a day-long pause in fighting following a plea from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It has also granted permission for investigators to carry weapons as a protective measure. Bishop tweeted today that the party of experts had finally made it onto the site.
Great news as Dutch-Aussie advance-party of experts have just made it on to #MH17 crash site. At last work begins to bring our people home.
— Julie Bishop (@JulieBishopMP) July 31, 2014
The Australian foreign minister said she was also aware of claims from the Ukrainian military that rebels had been laying land mines on roads through the crash site. "I don't know if those reports are confirmed," she told ABC radio. "If that is true, it is utterly despicable."
Flight MH17: military mission to secure crash site 'unrealistic'
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has ruled out sending an international military force to secure the MH17 crash site, saying it would be "unrealistic," the BBC reports.
"Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is, according to our conclusion, not realistic", he said.
The eastern areas of Donetsk and Luhansk continue to be plagued by fighting between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.
Rutte warned that such action could provoke the separatists and further "destabilise the situation" in the region. His conclusion follows early plans that were mooted for a joint operation to secure the crash site by the governments of the Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia.
An official investigation of the site has not yet been carried out as the area is still under the control of pro-Russian rebels. There are increasing fears that evidence from the crash may be lost or removed as separatists and locals disturb the crime scene. Several bodies are still missing in the fields surrounding the crash site, while the repatriation process continues.
"We cannot take the risk", Alexander Hug from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) told the BBC.
Following allegations that victims' credit cards and other valuable had been looted from the crash, a woman from Donetsk caused outrage when she posted an image to Instagram showing her wearing mascara apparently stolen from the crash site.
The self-identified Russian separatist captioned the photo "mascara from Amsterdam, from the field to be precise, you know what I mean", the International Business Times reports.
In separate developments, the US government has released intelligence documents which it says prove that Russia has been firing across the border into Ukraine. The satellite images also prove that the separatists in eastern Ukraine are using heavy artillery provided by Russia, US officials said.
Flight MH17: Commander admits rebels had Buk missile
A pro-Russian rebel commander has admitted that separatists did possess the Buk missile system (above), which Western leaders suspect was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, told Reuters that the anti-aircraft missile system could have originated in Russia and may have been sent back since the disaster.
"That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back," he said. "They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence."
The US presented evidence in Washington yesterday that points to the use of a Buk missile system against the civilian plane, which crashed last Thursday killing all 298 people on board. Officials said the "most plausible explanation" was that rebels mistook the airliner for another aircraft.
Khodakovsky suggested Kiev had goaded rebels into the attack by launching air strikes in the area while knowing that the rebels had a missile launcher in place.
He claimed that after a week of no air strikes, Kiev had chosen to carry out an airborne attack on a target "they did not need" at the moment a civilian plane flew overhead.
"That day, they were intensively flying, and exactly at the moment of the shooting, at the moment the civilian plane flew overhead, they launched air strikes. Even if there was a Buk, and even if the Buk was used, Ukraine did everything to ensure that a civilian aircraft was shot down."
He added: "Ukraine received timely evidence that the volunteers have this technology, through the fault of Russia. It not only did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians."
However, another pro-Russian rebel leader – Alexander Borodai, self-declared prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) – has categorically denied the presence of the Russian-made SA-11 Buk missile system in the crash area. Speaking to the BBC in Donetsk, he insisted any evidence to the contrary was "fake".
Flight MH17: Bodies missing as repatriation begins
The first bodies from downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 have arrived in The Netherlands, the BBC reports.
But Dutch officials say only 200 of the 282 recovered bodies arrived by train in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday night. Interpol began the preliminary identification process after they arrived from Donetsk.
The plane landed in Eindhoven, where it was met by Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, and members of the royal family. They will then be taken to Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks for further identification.
Rutte warned families that while the identification process might be quick in some cases, other cases could take "weeks or even months".
A day of national mourning is being held in the Netherlands for the 193 Dutch victims who died in the crash.
Meanwhile, declassified US intelligence documents have revealed that officials believe Russia "created the conditions" that resulted in the downing of the Malaysian airliner, but found no direct link to Moscow.
They instead suggested that the Russian separatists in Donetsk shot down the plane "by mistake", The Guardian reports.
The black boxes, handed over to Dutch authorities by Malaysian officials, have now arrived in Farnborough where they will be analysed by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch, according to the BBC.
"They're confident that, depending on the level of damage, they will be able to retrieve the information within 24 hours," a spokesperson for the Department of Transport told the Guardian.
Flight MH17: bodies and black boxes handed over by rebels
Four days after flight MH17 was downed in eastern Ukraine, almost all of the passengers' bodies have been sent on a slow journey to the Netherlands to be identified by forensic experts.
Senior rebel leaders finally agreed to hand over the bodies and the plane's black boxes, and allow international investigators access to the crash site.
A freight train carrying 282 passengers is on its way to Kharkiv, a city controlled by the Ukrainian government. The bodies will then be prepared for transfer by air to the Netherlands. The remains of 16 people are still believed to be missing.
Although the bodies were placed in a refrigerator train, the Dutch victim identification team was told that the refrigeration units had broken down during a power cut on Sunday, reports The Times.
"Investigators wore face masks and bowed their heads before entering the trucks, which emitted an overwhelming stench," says the newspaper.
The train later arrived in Donetsk but was temporarily held up in the wake of heavy fighting around the city's railway station.
The black boxes have been handed over to Malaysian officials, who said the recorders were "in good condition". Experts hope they will reveal the exact time of the incident, the altitude of the plane and its precise position, as well as recordings from the cockpit.
Families of British victims have been urgently cancelling credit cards and mobile phone accounts amid claims that the bodies were "looted", the Daily Telegraph reported last night. Witnesses claimed separatists had been pocketing valuables and electronic equipment from the site.
Rebel commander Alexander Borodai admitted that items might have been stolen and promised to punish the offenders. "Sons of bitches can be found everywhere," he told reporters. "We are now investigating. Those who are guilty would be severely punished."
According to The Guardian, Malaysia Airlines is facing further criticism after it emerged that in diverting its planes away from Ukraine, it had sent at least one flight over another conflict zone: Syria. ·