UN demands full access to Flight MH17 crash site

THE UN Security Council last night condemned the downing of Flight MH17 and demanded armed rebels in the Ukraine allow safe, full and unrestricted access to the crash site.

A forensic team inspects the remains of victims loaded on to refrigerator rail wagons. Picture: Reuters

In a move that gained unanimous backing from the 15-member council, including Russia, it adopted a strongly worded resolution drafted by Australia which also called for an international investigation into the tragedy which claimed the lives of all 298 people on board.

Relatives of those killed on Flight MH17 have spoken of their anguish and growing anger as the international community finally brought pressure to bear on Russia to co-operate.

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Prime Minister David Cameron warned president Vladimir Putin the “world is watching” as the council voted on the resolution demanding access to the scene of the disaster in Ukraine and a ceasefire around the area.

The developments came as a train containing the bodies of nearly 200 of the victims – seized by rebels earlier this week – began its journey to the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, four days on from the disaster in which those on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 died.

But there was growing frustration in the UK and in the Netherlands – where the majority of the victims were from – that the bodies had still not been handed over to the Dutch authorities.

Today a meeting of EU foreign ministers will discuss possible new sanctions against Mr Putin’s government.

Meanwhile, Russia was facing yet more accusations of a cover-up after Ukraine said Moscow-backed militias had tampered with the plane’s black boxes.

Ahead of the security council vote, Mr Cameron told his Russian counterpart to stop the “bluster” and “obfuscation” by allowing investigators access to the crash site.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said this was a “defining moment” for Russia.

President Barack Obama accused pro-Russian separatists of removing evidence and bodies from the crash site, asking: “What exactly are they trying to hide?”

Given Russia influence over the rebels, he said, “Russia, and president Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to co-operate with the investigation. That is the least that they can do.”

Both the UK and the US said there was evidence the missile that brought down the plane was fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by the separatists. But despite Russia’s growing international isolation, the bodies of those killed when the flight came down were only beginning to be transported away from the rebel-controlled area last night.

Observers noted an “overwhelming” smell of decay at the railway station in the Ukrainian town of Torez, where many of the bodies have sat in refrigerated wagons since Sunday.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, said they would be taken to the eastern city of Kharkiv before the remains were transported to the Netherlands.

Earlier, Dutch forensic investigators had been allowed limited access to the train as emergency workers continued to retrieve more bodies at the nearby crash site.

Jordan Withers, nephew of Glenn Thomas – who was one of the ten Britons on board flight MH17 – said the bodies of victims had been treated “inhumanely”, adding that they had been loaded on to trains “like cargo”.

Mr Thomas was a World Health Organisation media relations co-ordinator and former BBC journalist, who was travelling to Australia for an international Aids conference when he died in the crash.

Mr Withers added: “We just want our uncle back … because that is when we can start the grieving process and we can give him the send-off he deserves.”

Barry Sweeney, the father of Liam Sweeney, who also died in the crash, added: “Somebody asked me what would I say to Mr Putin. I said ‘do now – talk later – let our relatives … come home and then sort it out later’.”

In an unusual move that underscored the severity of the national trauma in the Netherlands, a sombre King Willem-Alexander gave a brief televised address to his country after meeting grieving relatives near the central city of Utrecht.

“This terrible disaster has left a deep wound in our society,” the king said. “The scar will be visible and tangible for years to come.”

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said: “All of the Netherlands feels their anger. All of the Netherlands feels their deep grief. All of the Netherlands is standing with the next of kin.”

Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers died on their way to a holiday in Bali, said: “There are people who have this on their conscience. There are families who can never hold the body of a child or a mother.”

Prosecutors in the Netherlands said they have begun a criminal investigation into the downing of the plane over eastern Ukraine on Thursday though it remains unclear exactly where any suspects might be brought to justice.