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July 20, 2014

Kerry: Concerned Bodies, Evidence Taken From Ukraine Plane Crash Site

by VOA News

The local department of an emergency ministry in eastern Ukraine said Sunday 196 bodies of the 298 passengers and crew on board the downed Malaysia Airlines flight have been recovered three days after the crash.   

It was not immediately clear where the bodies are being stored.

However, Reuters news agency reported Sunday railway workers said bodies from the downed plane are in refrigerated wagons at a train station in the town of Torez, 15 kilometers from the site.  

There has been international outrage and concern about the contamination of the crash site before investigators were allowed access, which continues to be limited by pro-Russian rebels in control of the area. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Washington is "very concerned" about reports that debris and bodies from the downed airliner have been taken from the crash site.

The State Department says Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by telephone Saturday. He reportedly told Lavrov he also is concerned that European monitors are not being given proper access to the crash site.  

Additionally, Kerry again urged Russia to take immediate action to stop the flow of weapons and fighters to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

Russia's Interfax news agency said Lavrov agreed that all physical evidence - including the vital black box recorders - be made available to investigators.

On Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the crash site as "absolutely chaotic."

He told Australian television that he summoned the Russian trade minister to express his "concerns and dissatisfaction with the way this has been handled. Russian-controlled territory, Russian-backed rebels, quite likely a Russian-supplied weapon - Russia can't wash its hands of this," he told the minister.

Abbot said he fears tampering with the evidence will continue because there is "no one in authority on the ground."  He said, "My fear is that Russia will say the right thing, but that on the ground interference with the site, interference with investigators, interference with the dignified treatment of the bodies will continue."

Ukraine connects dots

Ukraine's counterintelligence chief said his country has "compelling evidence" that shows Russians played a role in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines flight over a separatist-controlled region near the Russian border.     

During a Saturday news conference, Vitaly Nada said separatist rebels do not have the training to operate a high-tech BUK-1 missile launcher.

"To operate BUK-1 you need to have a military education and to be well-trained. We know for sure that the team was Russian, there were Russian citizens operating BUK-1, and they came from the territory of the Russian federation together with the missile launcher," he said.

Thursday's missile strike killed all 298 people onboard the plane.

At a news conference late Saturday, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said additional pressure has to be put on Russia.

"What we need now is clear international pressure also on Russia, because Russia has influence on these 'terrorists,' to provide clear and unhindered access to the place of the crash," said Klimkin.

Ukraine has accused Russia of assisting pro-Russian separatists in destroying evidence at the crash site. The government on Saturday said the rebels have removed 38 bodies from the site and taken them to the insurgent-controlled city of Donetsk. It said the bodies were transported with the assistance of "specialists with clearly Russian accents."  

But, Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen who is the self-declared leader of Ukraine's Donetsk region, said separatists had not interfered with the crash site.

Also, reporters in the area of the crash said Saturday that armed rebels had fired warning shots to prevent them from reaching the scene.

Cameron weigns in

British Prime Minister David Cameron, writing in London's The Sunday Times newspaper, says if this is the case, it is a direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state and training and arming thuggish militias.

Cameron said too many European countries have been reluctant to face up to what is happening in eastern Ukraine. He writes that the West must change its approach to Russia and make Western power, influence and resources count.

Malaysian official traveling to Ukraine

Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai was traveling to Ukraine on Saturday to join officials who are assisting in the crash probe. Speaking before he left for Kyiv, Liow said vital evidence at the crash site had been tampered with. He called it a "betrayal" of the lives lost in the disaster.  

He also said the Malaysia Airlines flight was on its proper path when it was downed.

​​"It followed a route which was set out by the international aviation authorities, approved by Eurocontrol, and used by hundreds of other aircraft. If flew at an altitude set and deemed safe by the local air traffic control, and it never strayed into restricted airspace," he said.

Malaysia Airlines says it is no longer flying planes over Ukrainian airspace, instead routing its aircraft over Turkey.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur Thursday when it was shot down.

​​Nearly 200 of the passengers were Dutch nationals. The International AIDS Society says there were at least six delegates on the plane who where traveling to an  AIDS conference in Australia, including former IAS President Joep Lange.  

Other victims include 44 Malaysians, 28 Australians and 12 Indonesians.  Several people each from Britain, Germany, Belgium, Vietnam and the Philippines also were killed, along with one each from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong.  The crew of 15 were all Malaysians.

An "outrage of unspeakable proportions"

 

​​On Friday, President Barack Obama said the United States is confident a surface-to-air missile shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine and that it was fired from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The U.S. leader called the deaths of 298 passengers and crew an "outrage of unspeakable proportions."

The president stopped short of directly blaming any specific person or group for shooting down the plane, but he said Ukrainian separatists are known to have received a steady stream of support from Russia, including heavy weapons, anti-aircraft weapons and training.

Obama said Russian President Putin has the most control over the situation in Ukraine, but has not used it to work toward a peaceful settlement.

 

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