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Obama: Downing of Malaysia Airliner an 'Outrage of Unspeakable Proportions'

by VOA News July 18, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama says the deaths of the 298 people aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane that went down over eastern Ukraine are an 'outrage of unspeakable proportions.'

Speaking at the White House Friday, Obama said evidence indicates the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

He called for an international investigation into the incident saying Russia and the separatists must adhere to an immediate cease-fire.

The U.S. leader said the event underscores ' it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine.'

OSCE monitors

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent about 30 monitors to the Malaysia Airlines wreckage site in eastern Ukraine, saying pro-Russian rebels controlling the region granted them safe passage.

World leaders have called for a full investigation into the incident, which killed all 298 people on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. U.S. officials say that the plane was brought down Thursday by a surface-to-air missile, but that it is not clear who fired it.

Speaking during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said the missile system was likely operated from a 'separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine.' She also said technical assistance from Russia cannot be ruled out.

Faulting Russia for supplying the separatists with high-powered arms, training and other assistance, Power called for Russia to help de-escalate the fighting between rebels and Ukrainian government forces. She told the U.N. Security Council, "This war can be ended. Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war."

Ukraine's government has accused the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine of shooting the plane down, while the rebels blamed government forces.

Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, had said Ukraine would present evidence to the Council showing Russia's military was involved in the crash.

Malaysia Airlines says the route where the incident occurred is commonly used for Europe-to-Asia flights.

Most of the passengers on the Boeing 777 aircraft were Dutch, and many were scientists heading to an international AIDS conference in Australia.

Most bodies located

Emergency workers say more than 180 bodies have been located. There are conflicting reports about whether the plane's two black boxes, for audio and video, had been recovered.

The incident sent debris and body parts over a wide area of eastern Ukraine. Bodies fell in fields and inside and outside of village homes.

Malaysia Airlines said people from at least 10 countries were on board the plane, including 189 from the Netherlands, 44 Malaysians and 27 Australians. Another 12 were Indonesian, nine were British and about a dozen others were from Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, Canada or New Zealand. Four passengers' nationalities have not been determined.

A top Malaysia Airlines official said the company will pay $5,000 per passenger to relatives to cover initial expenses.

U.S. intelligence officials said the plane likely was targeted deliberately by someone who may have mistaken it for a Ukrainian military transport plane.

Malaysia Airlines said it no longer will fly planes over Ukrainian airspace, instead routing its aircraft farther south over Turkey.

​​Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters Friday in Kuala Lumpur that the purposeful downing of a passenger jet violates international law and would be an 'outrage against human decency.'

He said Malaysia is sending a 62-person disaster team to Amsterdam to assist with support to victims' families.

​Many of the passengers were traveling to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia.

The International AIDS Society, host of the conference scheduled to begin Sunday in Melbourne, has released a statement expressing 'sincere sadness' and condolences to the victims' families.

The United States called for a cease-fire to facilitate the investigation, as did German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "There are many indications that the plane was shot down, so we have to take things very seriously," she said.

The plane had a clean maintenance record, a Malaysia Airlines official said Friday. Huib Gorter, its European vice president, said "all … systems on the aircraft were functioning normally" before it lost contact, the news agency AFP reported Friday.

Missile targeted plane

VOA's Defense Department correspondent said that U.S. officials confirmed the plane was hit by a missile, but that it wasn't clear who fired the missile or whether it came from Russian or Ukrainian territory.

An official said the plane likely was targeted by someone who may have mistaken it for a military transport plane.

VOA Southeast Asia correspondent Steve Herman, who is covering the crash, said there is growing consensus that the aircraft was shot down.

'This does appear, according to U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence officials, to be a shootdown of the aircraft, perhaps mistaken for a Ukrainian military aircraft. And there's no indication whatsoever that there was pilot error or some sort of mechanical fault that brought down MH17 over eastern Ukraine at this point,' said Herman.

Ukraine has accused pro-Russia militants of shooting down the plane.

Putin calls for investigation

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the incident on Ukraine, citing its offensive against the rebels that began two weeks ago.

In a phone call with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Putin demanded a "thorough and unbiased" investigation into the airliner's downing, the Kremlin said Friday.

"The head of the Russian state underlined that the tragedy yet again highlighted the need for the swiftest peaceful solution to the acute crisis in Ukraine and noted that a thorough and unbiased investigation into all the circumstances of the air catastrophe was needed," it said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott also demanded an investigation, calling Russia's response to the crash 'deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.' He said the idea that Russia can deny any responsibility for the crash because it happened on Ukrainian soil 'does not stand up to any serious scrutiny.' The crash, he said, 'is not an accident, it's a crime.'

But former Cuban president Fidel Castro sided with Putin in attributing the crash to the "warmonger" government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Cuba, Russia's longtime ally and former dependent, 'cannot go without expressing its repudiation over the action of such an anti-Russian, anti-Ukrainian and pro-imperialist government,' Castro, 87, wrote in a 270-word missive published in official Cuban media Friday, Reuters reported.

Obama offers condolences

Late Thursday, President Barack Obama telephoned Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte to offer condolences. White House officials say the two leaders talked about the need to ensure that international investigators have unimpeded and immediate access to the crash site.

Obama also spoke with Poroshenko and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who said that he could not confirm the plane was shot down, but that the pilot did not send out any distress call.

A NATO statement said that much remains unknown about the crash circumstances, but that Russian-backed separatists have created an increasingly dangerous situation.

Various U.S. and international airlines, including Malaysia Airlines, say they will avoid the airspace over the border between Russia and eastern Ukraine.

Crisis in eastern Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine has been the scene of fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists who have declared independence in some regions with the aim of joining Russia.

Separatists say they have shot down Ukrainian military planes in recent weeks, and Kyiv accused Russia of shooting down a Ukrainian military aircraft Wednesday.

The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Russia Wednesday for failing to take steps to de-escalate the crisis in eastern Ukraine and for providing weapons and support to the rebels.

This is the second major tragedy for Malaysia Airlines this year. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 when it disappeared with 239 people on board. It did not send out a distress call and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. Searchers have found no trace of the plane.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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