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Europe

Ukraine rebels ‘remove 196’ bodies to unknown location

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-20

Separatist rebels have taken away all the 196 bodies that workers had recovered from Thursday’s Malaysian Airlines plane crash to an unknown location, Ukraine’s emergency services said Sunday.

Associated Press journalists saw rebels putting bagged bodies onto trucks and driving them away Saturday. On Sunday, AP journalists saw no bodies at the crash site and emergency workers were searching the sprawling area only for body parts.

Railway workers said the bodies had been loaded into refrigerator wagons at a station in the town of Torez, 15 km away from the crash site, according to Reuters.

"Something was delivered and they told us to wait," one railway worker said on condition of anonymity, adding that the "something" were bodies.

The wagons, he said, were due to be transported "in the direction of Ilovaisk", a town further to the east towards the border with Russia.

Earlier, the Ukraine government said it had reached a preliminary deal with the pro-Russia separatists who control the plane crash site to remove the bodies.

News reports of how the bodies have been decaying for days in the summer sun have ignited outrage worldwide, especially from the Netherlands, home to over half the 298 victims.

Mutual accusations

Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile Thursday at Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 33,000 feet above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny the charge.

The US has pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner was probably downed by an SA-11 missile from rebel-held territory and “we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel.”

The latest US intelligence assessment suggests that more than one missile system was given to the separatists by the Russians in the last week or so.

But both Russia and the rebels vehemently deny any role in downing the plane.

Limited access

Despite calls by world leaders for an independent, international investigation into the plane's downing, armed separatists limited observers' access to the crash site on Friday and Saturday.

“We have to be very careful,” Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the 24 international monitors, told AP. “We are unarmed civilians, so we are not in a position to argue with people with heavy arms.”

The US State Department described the rebels' refusal to give monitors a full access to the site “an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve.”

Despite the restrictions seen by journalists and observers at the crash site, separatist leader Alexander Borodai insisted the rebels have not in any way interfered with the work of observers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Saturday in a phone call that an independent commission led by the International Civil Aviation Organization should be granted swift access to the crash site.

Four days after the crash, the whereabouts of the jetliner’s black boxes are still unknown, Ukrainian officials said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-07-20

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