Malaysia Airlines flight 17

Fighting rages near flight MH17 crash site, frustrating investigations

Pro-Russian rebel leader in Ukraine confirms they had Buk rockets near where MH17 downed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 11:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 5:45pm

Fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels raged yesterday near the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17, as countries which lost 298 citizens in the disaster moved to deploy their police to secure the impact zone.

The Dutch team leading the crash probe was stuck in Kiev, unable to join a handful of international investigators at the rebel-controlled site.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's army reported four soldiers killed over the last 24 hours in its offensive to retake the eastern industrial heartland from the pro-Russian insurgents. Two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down Wednesday 45 kilometres from the crash site, just as the first bodies recovered from the fated flight were flown out to the Netherlands, which counts 193 citizens lost in the disaster.

While the Dutch offered a solemn ceremony for the victims' remains, soldiers hoisting 40 wooden coffins into as many waiting hearses, British experts began analysing the black boxes from the flight.

Investigators said human remains were still strewn amidst the debris of the wreck, where recovery work has been at a standstill since Tuesday.

Dutch authorities said they can only be sure that 200 corpses have been recovered out of the 298 people killed on board.

Announcing Australia was ready to deploy police to secure the debris zone, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a rigorous search of the site was still needed.

"On the site it is still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels who brought the plane down in the first place," he said.

Abbott, whose country lost 28 citizens, said 50 Australian officers were on standby in London.

Rebels and government forces have declared a ceasefire in the immediate vicinity of the site, but just beyond, fierce fighting was ongoing.

The Ukrainian military said rockets were yesterday being fired "from the Russian side", hitting locations close to Luhansk airport and in several areas in the Donetsk region.

Mortar shells also rained down on Avdiyika in the Donetsk region, the army said, without giving details of casualties.

Since the airliner crashed with the loss of all 298 on board, the most contentious issue has been who fired the missile that brought the jet down in an area where government forces are fighting pro-Russian rebels.

Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the rebels' Vostok battalion, acknowledged for the first time since the plane was brought down last Thursday that the rebels did possess the Buk missile system and said it could have been sent back subsequently to remove proof of its presence.

Khodakovsky blamed the Kiev authorities for provoking what may have been the missile strike that destroyed the doomed airliner, saying Kiev had deliberately launched air strikes in the area, knowing the missiles were in place.

"I knew that a Buk came from Luhansk. At the time I was told that a Buk from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR," he said, referring to the Luhansk People's Republic.

"I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence," Khodakovsky said.

"The question is this: Ukraine received timely evidence that the volunteers have this technology, through the fault of Russia. It not only did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians," he said.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse