Ukraine: rebels have taken all plane crash bodies to unknown location
HRABOVE, UKRAINE // Separatist rebels have taken all the 196 bodies that workers recovered from the Malaysian Airlines crash site away to an unknown location, Ukraine’s emergency services said on Sunday.
Witnesses saw the pro-Russia rebels putting bagged bodies onto trucks at the crash site on Saturday in rebel-held eastern Ukraine and driving them away.
On Sunday morning, no bodies could be seen at the crash site and emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts. No armed separatists were seen at the site either.
Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile at Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 10,000 metres above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny the charge.
All of those on the plane – 283 passengers and 15 crew – were killed.
Ukrainian emergency ministry spokeswoman Nataliya Bystro said that recovery workers in the rebel-held territory had been labouring under duress and were forced to give the bodies to the armed gunmen.
“Where they took the bodies – we don’t know,” Ms Bystro said.
Separatists were not available to comment on her statement.
News reports of how the bodies had been decaying for days in the summer sun had ignited outrage worldwide, especially from the Netherlands, home to over half the victims.
Alexander Pilyushny, an emergency worker combing the crash site for body parts on Sunday said it took the rebels several hours to remove the bodies on Saturday. He said he and other emergency workers had no choice but to hand the bodies over to the rebels.
“They are armed and we are not,” Mr Pilyushny said. “The rebels came, put the bodies onto the trucks and took them away somewhere.”
Neither Ms Bystro nor Mr Pilyushny could explain what happened to the 102 bodies of plane victims that have not yet been recovered.
Earlier, the Ukraine government claimed it had reached a preliminary deal with the separatists to remove the bodies.
The US has pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner was probably downed by an SA-11 missile from rebel-held territory and “we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel”.
The latest US intelligence assessment suggests that more than one missile system was given to the separatists by the Russians in the last week or so. But both Russia and the rebels vehemently deny any role in downing the plane.
Despite calls by world leaders for an independent, international investigation into the plane’s downing, armed separatists limited observers’ access to the crash site on Friday and Saturday.
“We have to be very careful,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the 24 international monitors. “We are unarmed civilians, so we are not in a position to argue with people with heavy arms.”
The US State Department described the rebels’ refusal to give monitors a full access to the site “an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve”.
Despite the restrictions seen by journalists and observers at the crash site, separatist leader Alexander Borodai insisted the rebels have not in any way interfered with the work of observers.
The Dutch led the way in outrage over how the victims’ bodies were being treated.
“The news we got today of the bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly, has really created a shock in the Netherlands,” Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans told the Ukrainian president in Kiev. “People are angry, are furious at what they hear.”
Mr Timmermans demanded that the culprits be found.
“Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice,” he said.
Russian president Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a phone call on Saturday that an independent commission led by the International Civil Aviation Organisation should be granted swift access to the crash site.
* Associated Press
Updated: July 20, 2014 04:00 AM