Thursday 25 December 2014

Eighty bodies still 'remain at flight MH17 crash site' as investigators finally move in

Tom Parfitt and Bruno Waterfield

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, front, and his wife Datin Sri Rosmah Mansor, right, lay flowers among other flower tributes outside a military barracks where forensic experts are working to identify bodies and human remains recovered from the wreckage of Flight 17, in the central city of Hilversum, Netherlands, Thursday, July 31, 2014. Razak is making his first official visit to the Netherlands in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster, in which an ill-fated passenger jet bound from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, front, and his wife Datin Sri Rosmah Mansor, right, lay flowers among other flower tributes outside a military barracks where forensic experts are working to identify bodies and human remains recovered from the wreckage of Flight 17, in the central city of Hilversum, Netherlands. AP
An Ukrainian government army's soldier stands guard at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 31, 2014. AP
Members of Ukrainian self-defence battalion "Donbass" fire their weapon near the town of Pervomaysk. Reuters
Members of Ukrainian self-defence battalion "Donbass" are seen at their positions near the town of Pervomaysk July 31, 2014. Reuters
Members of Ukrainian self-defence battalion "Donbass" move along a road near the town of Pervomaysk. Reuters
A member of Ukrainian self-defence battalion "Donbass" fires a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) near the town of Pervomaysk. Reuters
A car travels across a damaged bridge near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 31, 2014. AP
Ukrainian tanks move along a road near Eastern Ukrainian village of Novoselivka Persha. Reuters
People walk across a damaged bridge near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. AP

A small group of international investigators finally reached the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine yesterday, as Australia's foreign minister said she believed up to 80 bodies remained there.

Two Dutch and two Australian specialists visited the debris zone after almost a week of daily attempts to reach the site had been thwarted by continued fighting in the area. Their visit was confirmed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), whose monitors escorted the team.

The fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk has intensified in recent days, preventing investigators from working.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 went down on July 17, killing all 298 people on board. The US, Australia and European countries have suggested pro-Russian rebels shot it down with a Buk missile launcher.

The team of investigators and OSCE monitors took a new and tortuous route to the site, which passes close to areas of fighting. They hope to return later with a larger search and recovery team.

Natalya Voloshina, head of the village council in Petropavlivka, where part of the plane fell, said: "There's a feeling the front line is moving towards us. I think they will attack soon. Yesterday there was a lot of shooting and explosions."

Mrs Voloshina said she had received little guidance from higher authorities about what to do with the crash debris. "There was some human remains that lay for some days on the edge of the village over there," she said.

"In the end they disappeared; I think some dogs carried them off."

Lidiya Khirna (64) a former welder in a military factory, said: "When the plane come down we saw children's toys, personal things scattered around. We're still discovering them. Yesterday I found a flip-flop in my marrow plants. We carried flowers to the wreckage to honour the dead. It's been awful, so many tears."

Julie Bishop, Australia's foreign minister, who is visiting Kiev, said she was concerned that Moscow was trying to hinder the investigation into the crash by fuelling the conflict.

"My great fear is Russia is actively undermining this process," she said.

"We learnt today that there could be the remains of up to 80 bodies on the site. We are determined to access the site, so that we can collect the remains with some dignity and return them to the Netherlands where they can be identified."

Most bodies are thought to have been removed from the area, which is entirely in rebel territory, to a refrigerated train and a morgue. Some have already been sent to Holland.

But the OSCE said earlier this week that there were still human remains, possessions and debris that needed to be recovered or examined.

Also yesterday, Ukraine's parliament gave approval for Holland and Australia to send 950 "armed personnel" to the country to protect investigative teams at the site. Sniffer dogs will be allowed to join the recovery effort.

Meanwhile, a ban on trading in the shares or bonds of five major Russian banks will come into force today as part of wider EU sanctions against Moscow for its aggression against Ukraine.

The measures aim to cut off Russia's access to European financial markets, transactions that are almost entirely carried out in the City of London. EU legislation published yesterday afternoon blacklists five banks, Russia's largest lender Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, VEB and Russian Agriculture Bank. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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