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Angry Australian PM: Ukraine Crash Site Probe 'Shambolic'

  • VOA News

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Monday hit out at the "shambolic" situation at the MH17 crash site as he demanded Russian President Vladimir Putin back up assurances with action.

At least 37 Australian passengers were among the 298 people aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, shot down over eastern Ukraine in an attack the West has blamed on separatist rebels armed by Russia.

“This is still an absolutely shambolic situation, it is an absolutely shambolic situation. It does look more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Canberra.

“There's no doubt that at the moment the site is under the control of the Russian backed rebels and given the almost certain culpability of the Russian-backed rebels in the downing of the aircraft having those people in control of the site is a little like leaving criminals in control of a crime scene,” he said.

Abbott, speaking on a breakfast radio show, said he had spoken “overnight” to Putin for the first time about the disaster, amid mounting horror over the treatment of victims' remains.

“To President Putin's credit he did say all the right things. I want to stress that what he said was fine," Abbott said. "The challenge now is to hold the president to his word, that's certainly my intention and it should be the intention of the family of nations to hold the president to his word."

Putin statement

Putin said on Monday the downing of the Malaysian airliner must not be used for political ends and urged separatists to allow international experts access to the crash site.

“Everything must be done to guarantee the security of international experts at the site of the tragedy,” Putin said in televised comments.

He reiterated his belief that the incident would not have happened if Ukrainian government forces had not ended a truce and resumed a military campaign against the pro-Russian separatists who have risen up in eastern Ukraine.

“However nobody should - and no one has the right to - use this tragedy to achieve selfish political ends. Such events should not divide people, but unite them,” he said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, British counterpart David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande also piled pressure on Putin over the weekend in phone calls.

Abbott, who has been critical of Russia's role in the disaster, said he had spoken to many Western leaders in the past two days and had noted “a much firmer and sterner mood” now.

He has branded the plane's downing "a crime", and accused Moscow of trying to wash its hands of the tragedy while failing to properly secure the crash site.

Moscow denies any involvement in the disaster.

Australia is leading a push for a binding U.N. resolution that demands those responsible be held accountable and that armed groups do not compromise the crash site integrity.

Diplomats said the U.N. Security Council could vote as early as Monday on an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the Ukraine plane crash site and a cease-fire around the area.

But Australia and Russia late Sunday were still working out key differences, and Britain accused Moscow of using "delaying tactics."

The resolution calls for pro-Russia separatists to allow access to the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines passenger jet. It asks for the full cooperation of all countries in the region, including Russia.

UN support

Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said she expects all 15 council members to support her country's proposal.

Bishop is in the United States to lead the lobbying for support of the resolution.

She said it was "an utter outrage" that the site had been contaminated and evidence removed. "This is not a time to use bodies as hostages or pawns in a Ukrainian-Russian conflict," she told reporters in Washington.

On Sunday, pro-Russian militiamen in Ukraine loaded almost 200 bodies from the flight into refrigerated train wagons. A rebel chief said they were holding them until "the experts arrive."

Canberra wants a full and impartial investigation in the disaster, but Abbott said a key difficulty was that there was "no-one in authority in charge on the ground."

But Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Moscow is concerned the draft "does not accurately reflect the need for an impartial, international investigation."

Churkin said Russia is proposing that the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, take the lead in the investigation. The current proposal welcomes "the decision by ICAO to send a team to assist" Ukrainian investigators.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant accused Russia of proposing amendment after amendment to delay passage of the resolution.

"It looks like a typical Russian delay in tactics, and one can guess why they want delay," Lyall Grant said.

The resolution also demands that armed groups who control the crash site do not disturb debris, belongings or victims' remains and cease military activities in the area.

US reaction

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia on Sunday for what he called "overwhelming evidence" of complicity in Thursday's downing of the Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine.

In a series of appearances on Sunday news shows, Kerry said the evidence points to Russia supplying pro-Moscow separatists with a sophisticated SA-11 anti-aircraft system and then training separatists to use it.

He said U.S. authorities have seen video, taken after the crash, of a missile launcher with at least one rocket missing. He said that battery was moved back into Russian territory from rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Thursday's attack, which killed 298 people near the Russian border.

Kerry also voiced hope that the airline tragedy will galvanize support in Europe for more sanctions against Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine in support of the pro-Russian separatists.

France, Britain and Germany warned Moscow Sunday it could face new economic sanctions if it does not force rebels to allow investigators unrestricted access to the crash site.

Separatists so far have permitted only limited access to experts for short periods of time.

Abbott is due to host Putin and other world leaders at the G20 Leaders Summit in November and is facing mounting calls to ban the Russian leader from participating.

“I think we are getting ahead of ourselves. The G20 meeting doesn't take place until mid-November. It's four months away. There's a lot of water that will almost certainly flow under the bridge between now and November and I just think it's unhelpful to start speculating about what might happen in four months now,” he said.

A 45-strong Australian investigation team was either in or heading to Kyiv, but had so far been unable to travel to the site despite some improvement in access.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.

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