Explosions ring out as MH17 investigators return to Ukraine crash site
International delegation finally reach MH17 crash site after days of fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels prevented them from reaching the area
Agencies in Donetsk
Explosions rang out near the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine yesterday as international investigators arrived for the first time in nearly a week after Kiev announced a pause in its offensive against rebels.
A team of Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by a team of international monitors on Thursday reached the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after days of fierce fighting that had stopped them reaching the area.
“Monitors reach MH17 crash site for 1st time in almost week, accompanied by four Dutch and Australian experts. Used new route to access,” the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission in charge of facilitating the international probe wrote on Twitter.
Fighting along the route to the wreckage site between government troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels had for several days kept the delegation from reaching the area.
Kiev said on Thursday it had suspended offensive operations in its military campaign in the east to help international experts reach the downed Malaysian airliner’s crash site but separatists were continuing to attack its positions.
One journalist at the scene on Thursday said it appeared to be under the control of separatist rebel fighters.
Police and forensic experts from the Netherlands and Australia are expected to initially focus their efforts on retrieving bodies still on the site and collect victims’ belongings.
It remains unclear exactly how many bodies remain and what condition they are in after being exposed for so long to the elements.
Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday ratified deals with the Netherlands and Australia allowing them to send some 950 “armed personnel” to secure the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in war-torn east Ukraine.
The agreements allow the two countries to dispatch “military and non-military” personnel to the scene, although Dutch officials have previously said it would be “not realistic” to send troops in to bolster a team of police experts already on the ground.
Ukraine said on Thursday it had suspended offensive operations in its military campaign in east Ukraine to help international experts reach the downed Malaysian airliner’s crash site but separatists were continuing to attack its positions.
Kiev said on the Facebook website of what it calls its “anti-terrorist operation” [ATO] against pro-Russian rebels in the east that it was heeding calls by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to stop fighting near the plane crash site.
“On July 31, troops involved in the active ATO phase are not conducting military operations apart from protecting their own positions from attack,” it said. “But mercenary fighters of the Russian terrorists are not respecting any international agreements and requests.”
The rebels have accused Kiev of blocking access to the Malaysian MH17 flight crash site by fighting in the area.
“Ukraine continued to violate the ceasefire in the MH17 crash area, not allowing OSCE observers and experts from the Netherlands and Australia to enter the area,” said Sergei Kavtaradze, an aide to top rebel leader Aleksander Borodai.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed Thursday for an “immediate cessation” of fighting between Ukraine government forces and rebels around the crash site of flight MH17 near the Russian border.
“I ask the immediate cessation of the hostilities in and around the crash site by both Ukraine and separatist forces,” he said after talks with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte in The Hague.
“We ask that all sides respect the lives lost and the integrity of the site. The long walk towards justice begins with this step.”