Ukraine: MH17 Crash Victims' Remains Being Processed
by VOA News July 22, 2014
The head of Ukraine's investigation into last week's downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 says the bodies of at least 282 of the 298 victims are being processed in the government-controlled city of Kharkiv. After security screenings, they are to be flown to Amsterdam
Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman confirmed that the bodies were aboard refrigerated rail cars that arrived in Kharkiv Tuesday morning. He would not confirm earlier reports that there are also 87 body parts that officials believe come from the remaining 16 victims.
Groysman told a news conference in Kharkiv that Malaysian officials who accompanied the bodies from rebel-held territory have the aircraft's flight recorders, and they are working with Dutch and international investigators to decide where their contents will be evaluated.
International police agency Interpol said that, along with other expert teams, it started identifying some of the bodies. A fuller identification will be carried out in the Netherlands, the agency said.
Crash site access
Groysman also spoke about the next steps in the investigation.
"The most important issue for today is to get access to the crash site to do the professional work, and everything, according to the legislation of Ukraine, and under the guidance of authorized agencies," said Groysman.
The White House Tuesday also emphasized the need for "immediate and full access'' to the crash site.
Welcoming news of the victim's remain being transferred to the Netherlands, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. has not yet seen "the level of cooperation with international investigators that we'd like to see.''
Officials from many countries say evidence at the site has already been disturbed by large numbers of local villagers and untrained volunteers who were allowed to walk around it and remove items. Ukraine accuses Russia and the separatists of destroying and manipulating evidence.
Ukraine gave up the international lead in the investigation on Monday, a move that apparently resolved the dispute that kept the bodies on the train near the crash site for two days. The Netherlands now has the lead and is expected to perform the forensic identification of the bodies at a facility in Amsterdam.
Russia pledges cooperation
Also Tuesday, Russia said it was ready to offer full cooperation with an international investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 after backing the U.N. Security Council resolution on the probe.
'Russia is ready to give such an investigation comprehensive help, including providing the necessary specialists,' the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised in televised comments to do everything in his power to influence the pro-Russian separatists controlling the area to allow a full investigation of the downing of the airliner. But he said such efforts would be inadequate without additional pressure on Kyiv to end ongoing hostilities.
The passenger jet was shot down last Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard. Officials in Ukraine, the United States and the European Union say the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile as it flew over eastern Ukraine. Kyiv says the plane was downed by separatists with a 'Buk' missile provided to them by Russia, a claim widely supported in the West. Moscow, meanwhile, points its finger at Ukraine, saying that it spotted a Ukrainian fighter jet in the vicinity of the passenger plane before it was downed.
UN Security Council
The handover of the bodies and black boxes, and reports by international investigators of improved access to the wreckage of the airliner four days after it was shot down, occurred against calls for broader sanctions against Russia for its alleged instigation and support of the rebellion in Ukraine's east.
The U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously condemned the airliner's downing and demanded that pro-Russian separatists controlling the crash site allow investigators unrestricted access to the area.
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking from the White House Monday, said 'the burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site.'
Netherlands Foreign Minister Frans Timmerman called the delay in granting access a 'despicable' political game.
'To my dying day, I will not understand that it took so much time for the rescue workers to be allowed to do their difficult jobs, and that human remains should be used in a political game,' he said. '... It is despicable.'
More penalties for Russia considered
The U.S. is considering "additional costs" on Russia, the White House said Tuesday. Washington had imposed its latest round of sanctions last Wednesday, a day before the downing of MH17.
"Our willingness to consider adding additional costs is something that continues to be a live option," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, adding that he U.S. also would welcome such steps from Europe.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers were meeting Tuesday to discuss further penalties against Russia.
However, the most European ministers are expected to do is speed up implementation of sanctions against individuals, and possibly companies, agreed to in principle last week before the airliner's downing.
Britain's new Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said his country would want the "cronies" surrounding President Putin to bear the pressure of additional punitive measures.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius blamed 'terrorists supplied by Moscow' for the airliner's destruction and the deaths of all 298 people aboard. He said he hoped the meeting would lead to beefed-up sanctions against Russia.
Linkevicius called for an arms embargo - a direct challenge to France, which is building two warships for the Russian navy. Amid protests, it has cleared one of them for delivery.
Several EU foreign ministers said Tuesday the bloc needs to consider an arms embargo against Russia following the downing of the plane.
VOA's Al Pessin contributed to this report from Kyiv. Some information was provided by Reuters, AFP and the Associated Press.
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