Train with plane crash bodies leaves rebel town
HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) – A refrigerated train carrying Malaysia Airlines victims’ bodies pulled away Monday from a rebel-held town in eastern Ukraine, one small step forward in easing the agony of their grieving families.
In an emotional inspection hours earlier, Dutch experts had called for a full forensic sweep of the Flight 17 crash site and told the armed separatists controlling the area that the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.
Four days after someone shot the Boeing 777 out of the sky, killing 298 people, pressure was growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane. The U.S., Ukraine and others say Moscow has armed the rebels, a charge Russia denies.
In Washington, President Barack Obama demanded that international investigators get full access to the crash site and accused the separatists of removing evidence and blocking investigators.
“What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama asked, a day after the U.S. presented what it called “powerful” evidence that the rebels had shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile.
A team of international observers at the crash site suggested that some of the evidence may have been tampered with.
At the biggest of the incident sites on Monday, “we did not see any perimeter security in the place,” OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told reporters in Donetsk. The monitors observed that one of the largest pieces of debris “had somewhat been split or moved apart.”
On an earlier visit to one of the smaller impact sites observers had also witnessed apparent tampering. “When we were leaving, we observed workers there hacking into the fuselage with gas-powered equipment,” Bociurkiw said.
At the U.N. in New York, the Security Council voted unanimously to approve an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the crash site and a cease-fire around the area.
The resolution – supported by Russia- calls for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 carrying 298 people in Hrabove. It calls for pro-Russia separatists to allow access to the site of the crash. And it demands that armed groups who control the crash site do not disturb debris, belongings or victims’ remains.
Fighting flared again between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk, just 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the west of the crash site. City authorities said battles took place Monday near the town’s airport. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from that direction.
After the train with the bodies left the town of Torez, two military jets also flew overhead and black smoke was seen rising in the distance.
Fighting began in mid-April in eastern Ukraine after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimean Peninsula a month earlier.
There is great concern in the Netherlands about the bodies, since 192 of the plane’s 298 victims were Dutch and another was Dutch-American. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday that repatriating the bodies was his “No. 1 priority.”
An Associated Press reporter saw the train with the bodies leaving Torez, a rebel-held town 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the plane crash site, and overheard rebels saying it was heading for the rebel-held town of Ilovaysk. The Ukrainian government later said the train was eventually heading to a crisis center in the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv.
In farm fields near the eastern village of Hrabove, Peter van Vliet, leader of the group from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team visiting Ukraine, said seeing the crash site gave him goose bumps despite the heat. Workers recovered more bodies from the site Monday, bringing the total to 282 bodies, according to Volodymyr Groisman, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister.