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Trial of any MH17 suspects to be held in Dutch court

© AFP/File | Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board

THE HAGUE (AFP) - 

The trials of any suspects arrested in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine will be held in the Netherlands, Dutch officials announced Wednesday.

All 298 people on board were killed when the plane was downed on July 17, 2014 on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

A joint international investigation has determined that the Boeing 777 jet was hit by a Russian-made BUK missile fired from rebel-held territory, but a separate criminal probe has yet to arrest any suspects.

Now the countries leading the joint investigation team (JIT) -- Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine -- have agreed that any trials will be carried out within the Dutch legal system.

The countries "decided that the suspects should be prosecuted in the Netherlands, a process that will be rooted in ongoing international cooperation and support," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said in a statement.

"This cooperation is vital, given the complexity of this case," he added, noting that eastern Ukraine was a conflict zone, "the scene of heavy fighting ... which is still difficult to access."

The investigation was also hampered by "a great deal of disinformation and attempts to discredit the investigation".

Most of the victims were Dutch, but Koenders said that in total they came from 17 countries spread across five continents.

Dutch prosecutors, who have been leading the criminal probe, had asked the government to clarify the legal framework for any prosecutions in order to proceed in the case.

- Ukraine pledges to help -

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed Wednesday that Kiev "will contribute and assist the Netherlands as much as possible to assure the prompt punishment of those responsible".

In a posting on his Facebook page, he again blamed Russia for blocking the creation of a UN-backed international tribunal.

"That is why I believe in (the) fairness, impartiality and objectivity of the Dutch justice" system, he added.

Investigators concluded in September that a BUK missile, which had been transported over the border from Russia shortly before the incident, was fired from a field in eastern Ukraine then controlled by pro-Russian rebels, and hit the plane.

But it stopped short of saying who pulled the trigger, and Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement, putting the blame on Kiev.

Preliminary criminal findings have said around 100 people are under investigation for playing "an active role" in the disaster.

Investigators have also released the names of two wanted Russian-speaking men -- Andrey Ivanovich, also known as "Orion", and Nikolay Fiodorovich, who used the pseudonym "Delfin" -- appealing for information about their whereabouts.

Ukraine and the Netherlands will sign a treaty on Friday to allow criminal prosecutions to be transferred to Dutch courts, the justice ministry said in a statement.

© 2017 AFP