Monday 22 December 2014

Experts reach MH17 crash site

Published 31/07/2014 | 11:07

Investigators are said to have reached the crash site (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Investigators are said to have reached the crash site (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Russian specialists hope to visit the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

As fighting continued to rage in eastern Ukraine, an international team of investigators has managed to reach the crash site of the Malaysia Airline Flight 17.

It was the first time since the plane was brought down by a missile two weeks ago, as c lashes along routes to the wreckage site between government troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels had kept the delegation from reaching the area to retrieve bodies.

But the investigators were allowed through a checkpoint leading to the crash site at the village of Rozsypne early this afternoon by a rifle-toting militiaman who then fired a warning shot to prevent reporters from accompanying the convoy.

The militiaman, who gave his name only as Sergei, told Associated Press journalists that fighting was still ongoing in Rozsypne.

The team of police and forensic experts, which comprises members from the Netherlands and Australia, are expected to initially focus their efforts on retrieving bodies still on the site and collecting victims' belongings.

Security for investigators has been a major concern as the Ukrainian army continues in its offensive to take back swathes of territory from the rebels.

National security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said a "day of quiet" was declared today in response to a call for a ceasefire from UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

"Ukraine has created all the conditions for the foreign experts to work," but the separatists continue to block access, he said.

Ukrainian authorities insist they are concentrating on securing highways surrounding the wreckage site. The aim, they have said, is to gradually squeeze out rebels forces.

But AP reporters near the crash site confirmed today that clashes are taking place in the immediate vicinity of where the Boeing 777 came down.

Reporters who attempted to reach the crash site by another route were warned by local residents that some nearby roads have been mined. And AP journalists saw a mortar round land near Hrabove, another village around which fragments of the plane remain uncollected.

A monitoring mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) spent yesterday and early today exploring safe routes from their base in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Today's drive took the convoy of investigators and OSCE officials from Donetsk through the town of Debaltseve, which was earlier this week retaken by the government, and later back into rebel territory.

Armoured personnel carriers and waving the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian national flag could be seen in and around Debaltseve.

At one entrance to Debaltseve, local residents walked along a pontoon erected over the remains of a blown-up bridge.

It remains unclear precisely how many bodies remain at the Malaysia Airlines crash site and what condition they are in after being exposed for so long to the elements.

But Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said she has been informed up to 80 bodies are still on the site.

A delegation from Russia's state aviation body said it also hoped to visit the site, an agency spokesman said.

Sergei Izvolsky said that a delegation of Russian specialists from Rosaviatsiya was due in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, today to participate in the investigation.

Representatives of the Dutch and Ukrainian commissions would not comment on the arrival of Russian officials.

Ukraine's parliament, meanwhile, voted not to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Mr Yatsenyuk had said last week he was resigning after two parties left the coalition supporting him and parliament balked at passing laws he said were essential to fund the country's war against pro-Russian separatists.

Meanwhile, the head of the Dutch-led international team said his group has retrieved additional DNA samples from 25 victims at a mortuary in Donetsk.

Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said from Kiev that the team had also recovered personal belongings of 27 victims at the mortuary.

Remains of around 200 victims were transferred to the Netherlands earlier and are being painstakingly identified.

Press Association

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