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Russia calls on both sides to give access to MH17 crash site

Ukrainian rescue workers walk past an armed pro-Russia militant as they carry the body of a victim on a stretcher at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET

MOSCOW: Russia called on Ukraine's authorities and rebels Saturday to give international experts access to the crash site of a Malaysian Airlines plane, the foreign ministry said.

"The Russian side appeals to both sides of the Ukrainian conflict, urging them to do everything possible to enable access for international experts to the airplane crash area in order to take action necessary for the investigation," it said in a statement.

The statement came as Kiev accused Russia and pro-Moscow separatists of destroying evidence of "international crimes," saying it had proof that a Russian fired the missile assumed to have killed all 298 aboard on Thursday.

"It is puzzling that before the trial even started the official representatives of a number of states rushed to unsubstantially put forward their versions of what caused the airplane crash, thus putting pressure on the course of the investigation," the Russian foreign ministry said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott blamed Russia Friday for the shooting down of the Boeing 777 while two U.S. officials said Washington strongly suspected it was downed by separatists backed by Moscow. Earlier Saturday separatist leader Aleksander Borodai said that the black boxes belonging to the downed Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine had not been found.

"The black boxes have not been found and we are not touching the site," said Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic.

Contradicting Ukrainian claims of interference, Borodai stated that the rebels in eastern Ukraine have not touched the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed but are worried about the humanitarian situation there as bodies decompose in the heat.

"Bodies of innocent people are lying out in the heat. We reserve the right, if the delay continues ... to begin the process of taking away the bodies. We ask the Russian Federation to help us with this problem and send their experts," said Borodai.

He told a news conference that he did not know why experts had yet to arrive at the site.

"Maybe this is because Ukraine or the Ukrainian authorities are not interested in an objective investigation."

Investigators from the international policing organisation Interpol and its European counterpart Europol will go to Ukraine to help in the process of identifying victims of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Europol said Saturday.

The European Union's policing organisation said it would contribute a specialist to the seven-strong team, which will leave for the Ukrainian capital Kiev Sunday morning.

A spokesman for Europol would not comment on whether the organisations had been offered guarantees that they would have access to the crash site, which is in the hands of separatist forces who do not accept Kiev's authority.

Ukraine accused Russia Saturday of helping separatist rebels destroy evidence at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane shot down in rebel-held territory with 298 people onboard.

The government in Kiev said militiamen have removed 38 bodies from the crash site in eastern Ukraine and have taken them to the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It says the bodies were transported with the assistance of specialists with distinct Russian accents.

The rebels are also "seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia," the Ukrainian government said in a statement.

The plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with citizens from 13 nations was shot down Thursday afternoon in eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border in an area that has seen months of clashes between government troops and pro-Russia separatists.

Ukraine called on Moscow to insist that the pro-Russia rebels grant international experts the ability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into the downing of the plane - a demand that President Barack Obama also issued a day earlier from Washington.

"The integrity of the site has been compromised, and there are indications that vital evidence has not been preserved in place," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said at a news conference Saturday in Kuala Lumpur.

He called for immediate access for Malaysia's team at the site to retrieve human remains.

An international delegation visited the crash site Friday evening but was only allowed to view one small portion. While the delegation was leaving under orders from armed rebel overseers, two Ukrainian members lingered to look at a fragment of the plane, prompting a militiaman to fire a warning shot in the air with his Kalashnikov.

Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, complained that what he called "Russian proxies" in Ukraine had failed to give investigators safe access to the site and tampered with the evidence there.

Ukraine said it has passed along all information on developments relating to Thursday's downing to its European and U.S. partners.

Obama, disclosing that one American was among those killed, called the downing of the plane "a global tragedy."

"An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies filled with citizens from many countries, so there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened," he said.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner carrying 298 people, including 80 children, likely was downed by an SA-11 missile and "we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel."

Both the White House and the Kremlin have called for peace talks in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-speaking separatists who seek closer ties to Moscow. Heavy fighting took place Friday less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the crash site, with 20 civilians reported killed.

Malaysia Airlines, meanwhile, said Saturday it has no immediate plans to fly the relatives of the 298 passengers and crew killed in the downing to visit the site in Ukraine because of security concerns.

A spokesman for the airline says next of kin are being cared for in Amsterdam while a team from the carrier, including security officials, was in Ukraine assessing the situation Saturday.

In the Netherlands, travelers flying out of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport laid flowers and signed a condolence book before boarding their flights Saturday, including those on the latest Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur.

 

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Summary

Russia called on Ukraine's authorities and rebels Saturday to give international experts access to the crash site of a Malaysian Airlines plane, the foreign ministry said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott blamed Russia Friday for the shooting down of the Boeing 777 while two U.S. officials said Washington strongly suspected it was downed by separatists backed by Moscow.

Ukraine accused Russia Saturday of helping separatist rebels destroy evidence at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane shot down in rebel-held territory with 298 people onboard.

The plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with citizens from 13 nations was shot down Thursday afternoon in eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border in an area that has seen months of clashes between government troops and pro-Russia separatists.

An international delegation visited the crash site Friday evening but was only allowed to view one small portion.

Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, complained that what he called "Russian proxies" in Ukraine had failed to give investigators safe access to the site and tampered with the evidence there.


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