Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Rebels blocking movement of refrigerated body train, Ukraine says

Officials say that rebels will not allow the train to depart, as Dutch and Malaysian experts arrive at the scene to investigate the refrigerated wagons

Natasha Culzac
Monday 21 July 2014 16:23
Refrigerated wagons at Torez in Ukraine, where the bodies of MH17 victims are being held
Refrigerated wagons at Torez in Ukraine, where the bodies of MH17 victims are being held

Armed rebels are blocking the movement of train carts containing the bodies of MH17 victims, Ukraine has said.

Confusion and frustration still reigns over where the bodies are to be transported, after being piled into refrigerated carriages in Torez, 15km from the crash site.

“As of today we managed to load 192 bodies and 8 body parts of the innocent victims of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flight onto a special train,” Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Hroisman, said in a statement on the government’s website.

“The train is in Torez and it is sealed. We finished this task in the morning, however, up until now the train has not left the station, for the terrorists are blocking the way. We are in constant negotiations with them regarding the transportation of the bodies of the victims.”

It comes as a further 21 bodies have been recovered from the wreckage, taking the total number of bodies found to 251.

It is unknown how quickly the bodies can be transferred to the refrigerated railcars in Torez.

“We sent two trains, four carts, which right now are in Torez City,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said, according to Sky News.

“These bloody guerrillas do not allow the train to leave the area.”

There are also reports that 38 bodies had been separately transferred to a morgue in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk and were being analysed by Russian undertakers.

The Ukrainian government's comments came after Australia turned up the heat on the rebels, saying: “This is not a time to use bodies as hostages or pawns in a Ukrainian-Russian conflict. It is time for these bodies to be brought home and it’s time for an investigation into who is responsible for this atrocity to begin.”

The chaotic recovery mission was given a further knock today after the refrigerated train wagons suffered a power outage last night.

An engineer told the Associated Press that the power had been off overnight but that the cooling system was back up and running by Monday morning.

There are also fears that some bodies may have been vaporised by the engines after the Malaysia Airlines flight shattered on impact.

Michael Bociurkiw, from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said: "We're looking at the field where the engines have come down.

"This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporised."

Pictures from the OSCE show that Dutch investigators, which have arrived at the crash site, have been able to reach the train and are being accompanied by armed rebels.

Dutch forensic expert Peter Van Vliet has examined the corpses commenting: "I think the storage of the bodies is (of) good quality," AFP reports.

Officials are expected to monitor the train later today, amid efforts to try and get it moved to another location.

"The separatists have said that international observers must be present when the train leaves... the Dutch experts are international observers... they can fulfill that role," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Pressure is mounting on Russia to use its influence to help rein in the pro-Moscow militants and to convince them to accede to UN-backed experts accessing the site to conduct an independent investigation.

President Putin said Russia would cooperate with plans to allow the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation a “safe and secure” entrance.

“We need to do everything to ensure the security and safety of the observers and the experts working at the crash site,” he said.

He also criticised the politicisation of the downing of MH17, condemning what he described as the exploitation of the incident for “mercenary objectives.”

The US, Britain and Australia are among the most vocal countries to denounce what is seen as Russia’s “delaying tactics” in dealing with the situation in eastern Ukraine, with rebels alleged to have tampered with evidence and moved bodies, including taking the Boeing 777’s black box recorders.

An Australia-proposed UN Security Council resolution will go under a vote later today, which will demand that UN investigators are given “full and unfettered” access to the crash site.

Speaking on Russia tweaking the draft resolution, British Ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, said: “It looks like a typical Russian delay in tactics, and one can guess why they want delay.”

Refrigerated wagons at Torez in Ukraine, where the bodies of MH17 victims are being held

International investigators are now trying to make their way to the crash site, with the first group – Dutch and Malaysian – having already arrived in rebel-held region.

Two German experts have arrived in Kiev and are attempting to make their way to eastern Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Four Germans were among the victims of the downed flight MH17.

Six experts from Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) are also in the Ukrainian capital waiting to be deployed to the crash site 300 miles away. Two serving officers from the Metropolitan Police are also there to help identify victims, with both teams "ready to assist."

"They are waiting to see just what format of investigation is established," a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman said.

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