Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Monitors quit site after 'intoxicated' rebel gunman fires warning shot

Ukraine has accused pro-Russian rebels of removing 38 bodies from crash site and 'destroying evidence'

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The Independent Online

A team of international observers say they have been refused full access to the rebel-controlled Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site, with one “visibly intoxicated guard” firing a warning shot into the air during their visit.

Despite being assured by rebel commanders they would ensure safe access for international experts visiting the scene where all 298 passengers aboard the flight died, the team of monitors left the site after just half an hour.

An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) team member, Michael Bociurkiw, told journalists: "A visibly intoxicated armed guard fired his rifle in the air when one of the observers walked out of the prescribed area."

However, official workers from Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry say they have explored 18 square km of a total 25 square km of the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed and have found 186 bodies, according to its spokesman, Andriy Lysenko.

"At 7 am on 19 July, 186 bodies have been found. The area that needs to be checked stands at 25 square km. Eighteen square km have already been checked," he told a news conference.

"The fighters have allowed Emergencies Ministry workers in there, but they do not allow them to take anything from the area. The fighters are taking away all that has been found."

The OSCE said they were unable to establish an access corridor for specialist teams to investigate the area where the Boeing 777-200 fell between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk.

They also could not find anyone to talk to about the plane's two black boxes and said villagers were seen removing pieces of wreckage, prompting fears crucial evidence needed to determine what, and who, is responsible for the tragedy could be tampered with.

Sergei Kavtaradze, a senior official of the pro-Russian rebels' self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said despite discussions, no agreement had been reached.

"There is no security zone. It is in a region near the front. There is military activity there," Kavtaradze told the Reuters news agency.

The bodies of those who died have still not been removed or tended to nearly 48 hours after the air disaster. Reports have also emerged of looting taking place as the victim’s belongings and clothes remain strewn across the fields and cornfields.

"The government of Ukraine officially states that the terrorists, with the help of Russia, are trying to destroy evidence of international crimes," the government said in a statement released today.

"According to government data, the terrorists have taken 38 bodies to the morgue in (the eastern city of) Donetsk," it said, accusing specialists with "strong Russian accents" of threatening to carry out their own autopsies.

Ukrainian coal miners prepare to search the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane (AP)

Mr Bociurkiw said the bodies had been marked but rescue workers could not say whose job it will be to remove them. 

Western based-defence specialists and intelligence specialists have also oiced fears pro-Russian separatists are hastily working to conceal any links to a Buk missile battery some suspect was used to shoot down the plane, The Guardian has reported.

Their withdrawal came as a British team of experts from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) were due to arrive in Ukraine’s capital Kiev for an investigation into the downing of the jet.

Downing Street said six investigators from the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch would join the growing international probe into exactly how the plane came to crash on Thursday, killing 298 people, including 10 Britons, nearly 200 Dutch passengers and 80 children.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said the aircraft’s flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Ukraine's government claims the plane was shot down by separatists and released an audio they claim proved this. But pro-Russian separatists deny this claim and say one of Ukraine's airforce jets was responsible.