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UN Demands Rebels Give Access to MH17 Site

Members of the Security Council vote on a resolution drafted by Australia, which lost 28 citizens in a Malaysian passerger plane crash in Ukraine, during meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York, July 21, 2014.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded on Monday that armed groups controlling the crash site in eastern Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down immediately allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.

The Council strongly condemned the downing of the aircraft and called for a "full, thorough and independent international investigation."

Meanwhile, witnesses say pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have handed over to Malaysian experts the flight data recorders from the downed Malaysian airliner.

The transfer occurred late Monday at a meeting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. It came just hours after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak spoke by telephone with rebel leader Alexander Borodai.

Council member Australia, which had 37 nationals aboard the flight, drafted the resolution. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop traveled to New York for the vote. She said Russia, which backs the separatists, must use its influence to ensure the resolution is implemented.

"We must have answers; we must have justice. We owe it to the victims and families to determine what happened and who was responsible," said Bishop.

The Malaysian airliner was downed over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 298 passengers and crew aboard. Since then, rebels have controlled access to the crash site. There have been reports of evidence, and even victims' possessions, being removed.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said a resolution should not have been necessary.

"We welcome Russia's support for today's resolution. But no resolution would have been necessary had Russia used its leverage with the separatists on Thursday, getting them to lay down their arms and leave the site to international experts. Or on Friday. Or on Saturday. Or even yesterday, " said Power.

The United States says Flight MH17 was likely downed by a surface-to-air missile operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine. Officials have said because of the specialized knowledge required to operate the system, they could not rule out that Russian personnel had provided technical help to the rebels. Russia has blamed Ukraine for the crash.

​After some changes were made to the draft text, Russia supported the resolution. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said an impartial and independent international investigation is necessary and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should play a leading role in it. He said all evidence, including the jet's black box recorders, should be provided to investigators.

One hundred-eighty-nine of the plane's 298 passengers were Dutch nationals, and Ukraine has asked the Netherlands to lead the investigation.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans came to New York for the vote. In emotion-filled remarks, he condemned reports of bodies being moved and their possessions looted. He said a "political game" has been played with the victims' remains.

"We will not rest until all facts are known and justice is served," said Timmermans.

Timmermans told reporters that if Russia does not act on its responsibility in this investigation, it will become increasingly isolated in the international community.