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Dutch tell rebels: Train full of bodies must leave

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HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Dutch forensic investigators told armed separatists guarding train cars full of bodies from the downed Malaysia Airlines jet that the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.

The experts from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team – which specializes in victim recovery and identification – also pressed Monday for rebels to seal the refrigerated train cars parked in the rebel-held town of Torez.

Four days after Flight 17 was shot out of the sky, international investigators still have had only limited access to the crash site, hindered by the pro-Russia fighters who control the verdant territory in eastern Ukraine. Outrage over the delays and the possible tampering of evidence at the site was building worldwide, especially in the Netherlands, where 192 of the plane’s 298 victims were Dutch and another was Dutch-American.

AP journalists said the smell of decay was overwhelming at the Torez train station Monday and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to their faces on the sunny, 84 degree Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) day.

Earlier, a Ukrainian train engineer told The Associated Press that a power outage had hit the cars’ refrigeration system for several hours overnight but was back up early Monday.

The investigators led by Peter Van Vilet of the Dutch LTFO forensic office stood for a moment with their heads bowed and hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect the train cars, surrounded by armed rebels.

“I think the storage of the bodies is of good of quality,” Van Vilet said. “We got the promise the train is going.”

However, he said the rebels did not say exactly when the train would leave. The Ukrainian government is hoping it will go to the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv, where it has set up a crash crisis center, but the rebels have not confirmed any movement yet.

In Kharkiv, another team of international experts arrived, including 23 Dutch, three Australians, two Germans, two Americans, and one person from the U.K.

At the charred crash site itself near the eastern village of Hrabove, emergency workers retrieved 21 more bodies Monday, bringing the total to 272 bodies, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

Fighting flared again Monday between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk, just 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the west of the crash site. City authorities said battles were taking place near the town’s airport. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from that direction.

Fighting began in mid-April between the government and the Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula a month earlier.

Pressure has been growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin – who the U.S. and others say has backed and armed the rebels – to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane.

Russia has denied backing the separatists.

Australia, meanwhile, pressed for a U.N. resolution calling for uninhibited access to the crash site and asking for the full cooperation of all countries in the region, including Russia.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped Russia will support the Security Council resolution.

“We would hope that, given what has happened, there would be unanimous support behind the principle of unfettered access to those who have the task of identifying and repatriating the victims, as well as to the investigators,” Cameron’s spokesman said.

The United States has presented what it called “powerful” evidence that the rebels shot down the Boeing 777 with a Russian surface-to-air Buk missile. That evidence included video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site; imagery showing the firing; phone calls claiming credit for the missile strike and phone recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

“A buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence … it’s powerful here,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists.”

Putin lashed out against the criticism Monday, accusing others of exploiting the downing of the plane for “mercenary objectives.”

Putin said Russia was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, to investigate the scene. He again criticized Ukrainian government authorities in Kiev for reigniting the fighting with the rebels.

“If fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened,” Putin said. “Nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy for such mercenary objectives.”

The head of counterintelligence for Ukraine’s SBU security service, Vitaliy Najda, said the Buk missile launchers came from Russia and called on Russia to supply the names of the service personnel “who brought about the launch of the missile” so they could be questioned. He said the rebels could not have operated the sophisticated weapon without Russian help but did not provide specific evidence for his claim.

In Moscow, Russian officials offered evidence Monday to counter U.S. claims that the rebels were responsible for shooting down the jet. The Defense Ministry showed photos they said proved that Ukrainian surface-to-air systems were operating in the area in the days before the crash. The officials said the systems were operated nine times on Thursday, the day the plane was brought down.

Russian officials also said they had evidence that a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet had flown “between 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles)” from the Malaysia Airlines jet.

“(The plane) is armed with air-to-air R-60 rockets, which can hit a target from a distance of up to 12 kilometers (7 miles) and guaranteed within 5 kilometers (3 miles),” said the chief of Russia’s General staff, Andrei Kartopolov.

The defense ministry officials also insisted that Russia had not given the rebels any surface-to-air missiles and added they have no evidence that any missiles were launched at all. They asked the U.S. to share any satellite images of the launch they might have.

Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s prime minister, angrily called on Russia to halt what he said was its support for the rebels.

“They have to stop, and President Putin has to realize, enough is enough,” he said. “What we expect from Russia: To de-escalate the situation, to withdraw their agents, to close the border, to stop their support for these bastards and to stick to international law.”

In the Netherlands, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a news conference that repatriating the bodies was his “No. 1 priority” and victims’ families were being consoled by the Dutch royals.

AP staff writers Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva reported from Moscow and AP staff writer David McHugh contributed from Kiev.

Dutch tell rebels: Train full of bodies must leave

KDWN

HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Dutch forensic investigators told armed separatists guarding train cars full of bodies from the downed Malaysia Airlines jet on Monday that the train must be allowed to leave within hours.

The experts from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team – which specializes in victim recovery and identification – also pressed for rebels to seal the train cars parked in the rebel-held town of Torez.

AP journalists at the site said the smell of decay was overwhelming Monday and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to the faces on the warm summer day. A train engineer told The Associated Press that a power outage had hit the cars’ refrigeration system overnight and it was not immediately clear why. The cooling system was back up and running early Monday, he said.

The fumbling efforts to recover remains and secure evidence at the crash site have fanned international outrage. Four days after the jetliner was shot out of the sky, international investigators still have had only limited access to the crash site, hindered by pro-Russia fighters who control the verdant territory in eastern Ukraine.

Of the 298 victims killed, 192 were Dutch and another was Dutch-American.

The investigators led by Peter Van Vilet of the Dutch LTFO forensic office climbed aboard to inspect the wagons, surrounded by armed rebels standing nearby.

“I have watched the train and the wagons and i think the story of the bodies is good of quality,” Van Vilet said.

“We got the promise the train is going,” he said, adding he did not know when.

The investigators stood for a moment with heads bowed and hands clasped before ascending the wagon.

Australia, meanwhile, pressed for a U.N. resolution calling for uninhibited access to the rebel-controlled crash site. It also asks for the full cooperation of all countries in the region, including Russia.

Emergency workers retrieved 21 more bodies Monday from the charred crash site and surrounding fields near the eastern village of Hrabove. Ukraine’s prime minister said 272 bodies have been recovered of the 298 people killed aboard the plane.

In the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv, another team of experts came to the government crisis center focused on the crash. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the team included 23 Dutch, two Germans, two from the United States, one from the United Kingdom, and three representatives from the Australian embassy.

The United States presented what it called “powerful” evidence Sunday that the rebels shot down the Boeing 777 with a Russian surface-to-air missile. That evidence included video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site; imagery showing the firing; phone calls claiming credit for the strike and phone recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

“A buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence … it’s powerful here,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists,” he added.

The head of counterintelligence for Ukraine’s SBU security service, Vitaliy Najda, said Saturday the Buk launchers came from Russia and called on Russia to supply the names and ranks of the service personnel “who brought about the launch of the missile” so they could be questioned by investigators. He said the rebels could not have operated the sophisticated weapon without Russian help. Nayda did not provide specific evidence for his claim.

Yatsenyuk said Monday “it is crystal clear that any Russian drunken guerilla cannot manage this system.”

Fighting flared again Monday between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk. City authorities said battles were taking place near the town’s airport and warned residents to stay inside. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from the direction of the airport.

AP staff writer Laura Mills reported from Moscow and AP staff writer David McHugh contributed from Kiev.

Dutch tell rebels: Train full of bodies must leave

KDWN

HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Dutch forensic investigators told the armed separatists guarding train cars full of bodies from the downed Malaysia Airlines jet that the train must be allowed to leave within hours.

The experts from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team – which specializes in victim recovery and identification – also pressed for the train cars parked near the rebel-held town of Torez to be sealed. AP journalists at the site said the smell of decay was overwhelming.

Then the experts headed for the crash site itself, 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, accompanied by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Of the victims, 192 were Dutch and another was Dutch-American.

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THIS IS AN URGENT DEVELOPMENT. THE EARLIER ASSOCIATED PRESS STORY IS BELOW:

The chaotic Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 recovery effort stumbled again Monday, with more bodies found at the sprawling crash site but a worrisome power outage in the refrigerated train holding over 200 of the dead.

The shambolic attempts to investigate by the pro-Russia separatists who control the verdant farmland where pieces of the plane crashed to Earth have fanned widespread international outrage, especially from the nations whose citizens were on the doomed plane. Four days after the jetliner was shot out of the sky, international investigators still had only limited access to the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Emergency workers piled 21 more black body bags from the blackened crash site by the side of the road Monday in Hrabove. That brought the total found to 272 of the 298 passengers and crew killed in the tragedy, according Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The bodies were being sent to the refrigerated railcars in the nearby town of Torez, where the other bodies are being kept. But a train engineer told The Associated Press that the cars’ refrigeration had been off overnight and it was not immediately clear why. The cooling system was back up and running early Monday, he said.

The smell of decomposing bodies was much more pronounced Monday at the Torez train station than a day earlier, when 196 bodies were put into the train cars. Four rebels armed with automatic weapons were standing guard around the cars.

Ukrainian officials say the plane was shot down by a mobile missile battery from a rebel-controlled area in eastern Ukraine. They said the BUK rocket launcher was supplied from Russia and operated by Russian personnel.

The United States presented what it called “powerful” evidence Sunday that the rebels shot down the Boeing 777 with a Russian surface-to-air missile. That evidence included video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site; imagery showing the firing; phone calls claiming credit for the strike and phone recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

“A buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence … it’s powerful here,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists,” he added.

Fighting flared again Monday between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk. City authorities said battles were taking place near the town’s airport and warned residents to stay inside. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from the direction of the airport.

Pressure has been growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the U.S. and others say has backed and armed the rebels, to rein in the insurgents in Ukraine and allow a full-scale investigation. Russia has denied backing the separatists.

Putin lashed out against those criticisms again Monday, accusing others of exploiting the downing of the plane for “mercenary objectives.”

Putin said Russia was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, to investigate the scene. He again criticized the Ukraine government authorities in Kiev for reigniting the fighting with the pro-Russia rebels who control the crash site.

“We can say with confidence that if fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened,” Putin said. “Nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy for such mercenary objectives.”

Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s prime minister, angrily called on Russia to halt what he said was its support for the rebels.

“They have to stop, and President Putin has to realize, enough is enough,” he said. “What we expect from Russia: To de-escalate the situation, to withdraw their agents, to close the border, to stop their support for these bastards, and to stick to international law and international observations.”

A team of international monitors, including three from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team, were to visit both Torez and the crash site later Monday.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 192 citizens on the plane, told a news conference that repatriating the bodies was his “No. 1 priority.”

Rebel leader Alexander Borodai denied his fighters were trying to tamper with evidence at the site, saying the bodies would be turned over to a team of Malaysian experts. A group of investigators that included Malaysian officials was in Kiev, but said they wouldn’t go into rebel-held areas until they get better assurances about security.

Despite Borodai’s claims, it was clear that the rebels were interfering in the investigation.

Lyubov Kudryavets, a worker at the Torez morgue, said the evening the plane went down, a resident brought in the bloodied body of a young child. On Saturday, militiamen came to take away the body away, she said.

“They began to question me: `Where are the fragments of rocket? Where are the fragments from the plane?'” Kudryavets said. “But I didn’t have any wreckage. … I swear.”

Experts said even if investigators were granted access now to the site, it might be too late.

“Even without any deliberate attempt at a cover-up, the crash site is already compromised in forensic terms,” said Keir Giles, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank.

He said a reconstruction of the aircraft fuselage and wings would show how the missile struck the plane and what type it was.

“If any aircraft parts have already been removed … this compromises the objectivity of the investigation,” he said.

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AP staff writer Laura Mills reported from Moscow and AP staff writer David McHugh contributed from Kiev.

AP staff writer Laura Mills reported from Moscow and AP staff writer David McHugh contributed from Kiev.