GRABOVE – The United Nations added its voice to global demands Friday for a full probe into the apparent downing of a Malaysian airliner in rebel-held east Ukraine, as international monitors arrived at the crash site.
An AFP crew saw around 30 observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) granted partial access by rebels to the disaster site, where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 came down Thursday, killing all 298 people on board.
The OSCE team — which was already on the ground monitoring the fighting in Ukraine — said they were not there to investigate the causes of the crash but to make sure the perimeters of the site were secured and oversee the handling of the victims’ remains.
The world was reeling from the shock loss of hundreds of civilians with no connection to the Ukraine conflict — from AIDS researchers en route to a conference, to Dutch families off for a holiday, to Muslims headed home to celebrate Eid with family.
News of the crash also sent world stock markets tumbling. Shares in Malaysia Airlines, still afflicted by the trauma of flight MH370’s disappearance four months ago, fell sharply while Russian stocks and the ruble sank.
The incident saw the United States hit out at Russia as the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War deepened while Moscow and Kiev ramped up their propaganda war in a bid to sway international opinion for the disaster.
– International fury –
In the Netherlands, tears welled up in the eyes of Sander Essers, who lost several relatives in the crash, as he told AFP he had spoken to his brother just 20 minutes before he boarded.
“I can’t tell you what he told me.”
Local authorities said some 182 bodies had been recovered but an AFP crew at the scene said that dozens of severely mutilated corpses remained strewn throughout the debris.
One devastated relative told how her sister Ninik Yuriani, 56 — of Indonesian descent but a Dutch national — was on her way to Jakarta to celebrate the Muslim festival Eid.
“My family is now gathered at my sister’s house in Jakarta. We’ve decided to keep this from my mother. She’s so old and weak, I don’t think she could take it,” Enny Nuraheni, 54, told AFP.
Malaysia Airlines said 283 passengers and 15 crew were aboard the plane — including at least 173 Dutch nationals, 43 Malaysians, 28 Australians and 12 Indonesians.
The UN Security Council unanimously demanded a “full, thorough and independent investigation” at the start of a meeting on the Ukraine crisis that saw fraught exchanges between Western countries and Russia.
US envoy Samantha Power told the emergency session that the doomed jet was “likely downed” by a surface-to-air missile operated from separatist-held eastern Ukraine.
And a US official talking on condition of anonymity told AFP that and initial intelligence review from Washington suggested the pro-Moscow insurgents were behind the catastrophe.
Local rescue workers told AFP that at least one of the plane’s black boxes had been found but the whereabouts of the vital date was unknown and any investigators able to reach the site face a mammoth task unravelling who was responsible.
Comments attributed to a pro-Russian rebel chief suggested his men may have downed the plane by mistake, believing it to be a Ukrainian army transport aircraft.
Ukraine released recordings of what they said was an intercepted call between an insurgent commander and a Russian intelligence officer as they realised they had shot down a passenger liner.
However the rebels accused the Ukrainian military of shooting down the plane and Russia’s defence ministry said Friday it had data indicating that a Ukrainian missile system was operating in the area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash but stated he was in contact with Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko and Kiev to achieve “long-term peace”.
The disaster comes just months after Malaysia Airline’s Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 on board. That plane diverted from its Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight path and its fate remains a mystery despite a massive multinational aerial and underwater search.
“This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic year, for Malaysia,” Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters early Friday after announcing an “immediate investigation”.
Najib added that a team of disaster response specialists had been dispatched to Kiev and that authorities in Ukraine had agreed to try to establish “a humanitarian corridor to the crash site”.
– Fighting continues –
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a ceasefire between government forces and insurgent fighters to allow for recovery operations and an investigation to go ahed.
But separatist leaders ruled out a truce and fierce clashes continued Friday with local authorities saying 20 civilians were killed in the rebel-held city of Lugansk, some 100 to the north-east of the crash site.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk alleged Friday that the rebel’s Russian backers had gone “too far” following the plane donwning and called for those behind the tragedy to be tried in The Hague.
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