July 21, 2014 00:00
By Agence France-Presse
World leaders warn Putin to allow full access; scores of bodies 'removed'; rebels have black box
Outraged world leaders yesterday heaped pressure on Russia to press Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine to allow investigators proper access to the crash site of the Malaysian MH17 jet.
A top Ukrainian rebel leader said the pro-Russian fighters would guarantee the safety of international monitors at the Malaysian jet’s crash site – if Kiev agrees to a truce.
“We declare that we will guarantee the safety of international experts on the scene as soon as Kiev concludes a ceasefire agreement,” Andrei Purgin, the “deputy premier” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said in a statement.
Rescue efforts were in disarray as armed guards in fatigues and balaclavas refused to allow international monitors full access and the grisly remains of some of the 298 passengers killed have yet to be removed.
Scores of bodies that had been gathered at the main Ukraine crash site have been removed, an AFP reporter on the scene said.
Pro-Russian rebels who had been guarding the impact site also appeared to have left, with about a dozen stretchers, paper masks and plastic gloves abandoned at the scene.
Poles marking locations where bodies had been found in the field had also been removed.
Local emergency crews, who were also absent from the site, declined comment when contacted by telephone but said the separatists would be releasing an official statement later.
European security body OSCE said on Saturday evening that 55 body bags and 55 markings indicating human remains were seen at the site.
Ukraine has warned that the rebels, who Kiev and the US have accused of blowing the plane out of the sky with a missile, were “hours away” from moving key evidence across the Russian border.
As fears grew that evidence was being tampered with, world leaders voiced their frustration with Moscow, pushing East-West ties to crisis point after months of discord over the Kremlin’s interference in ex-Soviet Ukraine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that Washington was “deeply concerned” investigators were denied “proper access” to the crash site for a second straight day.
Kerry was backed by leaders from other countries – as well as Ukraine – in calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene in getting an international probe under way.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called for possible tougher European action against Moscow.
“If President Putin does not change his approach on Ukraine, then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our ap-proach to Russia,” he said, writing in the Sunday Times newspaper.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte – his nation mourning the loss of 192 compatriots – said he had called on Putin during a “very intense” conversation to “take responsibility” for a credible investigation.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the crash site was “absolutely chaotic” as he sought to recover 28 bodies of his compatriots killed in the disaster.
Malaysia’s transport minister expressed alarm before boarding a flight to Kiev over “indications that vital evidence has not been preserved in place”.