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article imageMH17: Demands for investigators to have 'unfettered access'

By Robert Myles     Jul 20, 2014 in World
Donetsk - Forty-eight hours after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 over Ukraine, the US State Department described as “unacceptable” accident investigators not being given full access to the crash site and bodies of crash victims having been remove
Flight MH17 came down in an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia rebels. When on camera, the rebels have never been slow to display they are well armed.
Although culpability for the shooting down of Flight MH17 has yet to be established, both the government of Ukraine and a number of Western governments have pointed the finger of blame at an advanced piece of military hardware, a Russian built Buk surface-to-air missile launcher as being the most likely murder weapon used in killing all 298 passengers and crew on board the Malaysian Airlines flight.
In a statement issued Friday evening, US State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki briefed on how international monitors were allowed only the briefest of visits to a crash site. Any investigation to a crash of this nature would normally require to be undertaken 24/7 in the initial stages and that within a cordon sanitaire around the affected area.
Describing events so far, Psaki said, “We are deeply concerned by the Russia-backed separatists’ refusal to allow OSCE monitors safe and unfettered access to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Yesterday, the monitors were allowed only 75 minutes at the site. Today, they were allowed less than three hours.”
The extent of investigation, thus far, had been restricted to only a small area despite the crash debris field from Flight MH 17 covering many square kilometers.
On site security, Psaki added, “The site is not secure, and there are multiple reports of bodies being removed, parts of the plane and other debris being hauled away, and potential evidence tampered with.”
This, she said, was “unacceptable and an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve.”
In conclusion, Psaki urged Russia to cooperate, stating, “It is critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible. Russia-backed separatists committed Thursday to allowing full access to international observers and response teams and Russia supported an OSCE statement calling for the same. We urge Russia to honor its commitments and to publicly call on the separatists to do the same.”
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands echoed State Department calls. Almost two-thirds (193) of Flight MH17’s 298 victims were Dutch citizens.
Calling on Russian President Putin to live up to his responsibilities, Prime Minister Rutte said, “I want to see results in the form of unhindered access and a speedy recovery of the victims’ remains. This is now priority number one. Putin must take responsibility vis-à-vis the rebels and show the Netherlands and the world that he is doing what is expected of him.”
In his remarks, Rutte portrayed a state of affairs at the crash scene that will have disgusted many. The Dutch Premier said he was “shocked by the images of completely disrespectful behaviour at this tragic place.”
“In defiance of all the rules of proper investigation, people have evidently been picking through the personal and recognisable belongings of the victims. This is appalling,” he added.
“Swift recovery of the victims’ remains is now an absolute necessity and our highest priority. Anyone who fails to cooperate fully and immediately is leaving themselves open to very serious suspicions,” said Rutte.
Dutch forensics experts are already on their way to the MH17 crash site and, for them to do their jobs properly, Rutte said, unimpeded full access was required.
In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting on the MH17 disaster, Friday. 10 Britons lost their lives when Flight MH17 went down in eastern Ukraine.
After Friday's meeting, a spokesman for Prime Minister Cameron issued a statement rehearsing the views expressed by Dutch Premier, stating, “It is vital that specialist investigators are given unhindered access to the site as quickly as possible to establish the facts and to ensure the recovery and repatriation of victims.”
The UK has already sent six Air Accident Investigation Branch investigators to Ukraine to join a team of investigators sent by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). More experts from London’s Metropolitan Police are due to arrive in Ukraine today, Saturday, to assist with the recovery, identification and repatriation of those killed.
During Friday and Saturday a team of 30 OSCE inspectors visited the scene. Interviewed by the Washington Post (video), Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the OSCE’s observation mission said the crash site “looks like a war zone.”
On Saturday, armed pro-Russia militants, in control of the crash site, allowed the OSCE team more time on site than they were permitted Friday. Then, the OSCE inspectors were at the MH17 crash scene for just 75 minutes.
"There's a lot of security, people with heavy arms, we are being watched very carefully," Mr Bociurkiw said.
"We are unarmed civilians so we are not in a position to argue heavily with people with heavy arms.
"There are 'experts' here who brought body bags with them. They are moving the bodies to the side of the road — as far as we can tell no bodies have been moved beyond the crash site. We don't know who they are because we are not allowed, yet, access to them.
"They are going about the business of collecting bodies and body parts, putting them into what looks like professional body bags and bringing them to the side of road."
Bociurkiw said he’d seen no evidence yet of Flight MH17’s flight data recorders. Requests had been made to the leader of the group guarding the site but "they haven't produced any.”
"We are in a very small village and there is quite a surreal atmosphere, you see people trying to get on with their daily lives," Bociurkiw added.
"Right now we are looking at a very, very damaged piece of earth, where it looks like the engines and fuel tanks landed.
"The intensity of the fire was very strong here – bodies and material belongings basically vaporized. It looks like a war zone here."
Bociurkiw couldn’t confirm whether looting had taken place and noted that a lot of the debris consisted of sizeable chunks of wreckage that hadn’t been moved. Much of the debris his team looked at was badly burnt and vaporized but a few hundred metres away, some fragments of wreckage looked “almost like new", he said.
Bociurkiw and his fellow team members found quantities of personal belongings amongst which were duty-free bags from Amsterdam airport and a travel book. He’d inspected inside a number of body bags which had been left open. He described bodies as very badly damaged, with the contents "very difficult to look at."
Bociurkiw had also seen local miners moving bodies. Others were at the scene but the OSCE inspectors had departed the MH17 crash site for the day without being able to establish the identity of others patrolling the crash debris field.
“Nobody really knows who they are,” said Bociurkiw.
Each passing day, without proper forensic examination, holding a thorough investigation became increasingly more problematical, he said.
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