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Ukraine Halts Offensive to Help Experts Reach Crash Site

  • VOA News

Ukraine has announced a one-day halt in its fight against separatists in eastern Ukraine to allow international investigators to reach the downed Malaysian airliner's crash site.

Kyiv said the move Thursday was in response to a plea by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to stop fighting near the crash site.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have tried several times to access the area but have had to turn back because of safety concerns.

Ban told reporters Wednesday that he is "deeply disturbed" that investigators have not been able to access the site. He said key evidence remains in the area and noted that the bodies of the crash victims have not all been found.

Families of the victims of the crash, which killed 298 people July 17, are anxious for investigators to reach the scene. Some human remains are believed still at the site, after about 200 sets of remains were transferred to the Netherlands for identification last week.

Speaking during a visit to the Netherlands, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday called for an" immediate cessation of hostilities in eastern Ukraine." He also stressed that investigators need to be given full access to the crash site.

U.S. analysts say the Malaysia Airlines plane - downed over eastern Ukraine - was destroyed by a Russian missile likely fired by rebels who believed the aircraft was Ukrainian.

New sanctions go into effect

Meanwhile, Russia's central bank is promising to support financial institutions hit by new sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union aimed at punishing Russia for its support of the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The bank on Wednesday promised to "take adequate measures'' to support institutions affected by the sanctions.

Stock markets in Moscow opened lower Wednesday as the the measures against Russia's banking, oil and defense sectors went into effect.

Announcing new U.S. sanctions targeting Russia's energy, financial and defense sectors, President Barack Obama linked the new penalties to the shootdown of the Malaysian airliner. U.S. analysts say the plane downed over eastern Ukraine was destroyed by a Russian missile likely fired by rebels who believed the aircraft was Ukrainian.

In Brussels meanwhile, ambassadors from the 28-member European Union agreed to new penalties on Russia, including an arms embargo and a ban on trade of equipment for the Russian oil and defense sectors. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU measures against Moscow were "unavoidable."

It is not clear what further actions the U.S. and Europe are willing to take if the situation remains unchanged.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there is not a "shred of evidence" Russia seeks to end the violence and bloodshed in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking during a joint appearance in Washington with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, Kerry again called for Russia to use its "considerable influence" with separatists in eastern Ukraine to ensure that the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine is secured. He accused the separatists blocking access to the site where the airliner crashed earlier this month.

The U.S. secretary of state also said there is "clear evidence" of rocket and artillery fire from Russian territory into Ukraine.

Klimkin stressed the importance of reaching a cease-fire with the pro-Russian rebels, with the aim of restoring Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Their comments came as tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated, with Moscow accusing Kyiv of a cross-border attack and committing "war crimes" in eastern Ukraine.

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

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