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Forensic experts gather material to ID victims

Delta Airlines flight attendants place flowers in front of Schiphol airport on July 19, 2014, two days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed in eastern Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

THE HAGUE: Forensic teams fanned out across the Netherlands Saturday to collect material including DNA samples that will help positively identify the remains of victims killed in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine.

Police said in a tweet that 40 pairs of detectives from the National Forensic Investigations Team would be visiting victims' relatives over the coming days.

Their aims is to build a database of material including DNA and photographs of distinguishing features like scars and tattoos that can be used to identify bodies and body parts recovered from the crash site in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines said 192 of the 298 passengers and crew killed in Thursday's aviation disaster were Dutch.

The European Union police coordination body Europol said Saturday it would assist Interpol and other agencies in identifying victims in Ukraine.

"We will do our utmost to support the work that must be done following this horrific incident, where hundreds of families and friends to the innocent victims on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 are grieving and left with unanswered questions," Europol Director Rob Wainwright said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines said it is assessing security in Ukraine before taking a decision about possibly flying next of kin to the country where their family members lost their lives.

A spokesman for the airline said family members were being cared for in Amsterdam while a team from the carrier, including security officials, is in Ukraine assessing the situation.

The spokesman, who declined to be named in line with company policy, said the team was trying to travel "500 kilometers (310 miles) through difficult territory" to reach the area where wreckage of the Boeing 777 landed.

On Friday, regional vice president of the airline, Huib Gorter, told reporters, "It's an extremely complex area where the aircraft went down, so we need to be assured of the safety, logistics everything can be done well. If we do it, we've got to do it well."

Dutch newspapers carried pages of photos and stories Saturday about the dead. Travelers flying out of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport laid flowers and signed a condolence book before boarding their flights, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur.

"I am not really afraid. It's good that they kept the same flight number," Mirelle Geervliet said as she prepared to board the aircraft. "It doesn't change anything. If you change the number, people will start to be afraid."

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, on a visit to the Netherlands, was among those who signed the condolence book at the airport.

"This is a real tragedy - a tragedy for families, for nations and for the HIV AIDS community," Annan said, referring to several AIDS researchers who were on the doomed flight. "We should all hope that a thorough international investigation will be conducted and we will know what happened and the culprits should be held to account."

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans was in Kiev Saturday, pushing for a fully independent, international probe into the downing of the plane, a day after Prime Minister Mark Rutte steered clear of apportioning blame but vowed not to rest until the perpetrators are brought to justice if it is proven to be an attack.

 

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