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Rebels take full control of plane crash bodies

TOREZ, Ukraine -- Rebels in eastern Ukraine took full control Sunday of the bodies recovered from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and European leaders issued a strong call for Russian President Vladimir Putin to make sure international investigators had full access to the crash site.

The key question of who controlled the collection of evidence at the sprawling crash site in rebel-held territory dominated the day's rapid-fire developments. International monitors say armed rebels have limited their access to the crash site and Ukrainian officials said armed rebels took the bodies away from their workers by force.

Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile Thursday at Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 10,000 meters above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny shooting down the plane. All those onboard the flight β€” 283 passengers and 15 crew β€” were killed.

A wave of international outrage over how the bodies of the plane crash victims were being handled came amid fears that the armed rebels who control the crash site could be tampering with the evidence there.

Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Borodai said the bodies recovered from the crash site would remain in refrigerated train cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.

β€œThe bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive,” Borodai said, speaking in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

He also said the plane's black boxes have been recovered and will be handed over to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Borodai said he was expecting a team of 12 Malaysian experts and that he was disappointed at how long they had taken to arrive. He insisted that rebels had not interfered with the crash investigation, despite reports to the contrary by international monitors and journalists at the crash site.

Ukrainian government officials, meanwhile, prepared a disaster crisis center in the government-held city of Kharkiv, expecting to receive the bodies, but those hopes appeared delayed or even dashed Sunday.

Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said 192 bodies and eight body parts were loaded onto the railway cars.

The leaders of France, Germany and Britain issued a statement demanding that Putin make sure that pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine give full access to investigators at the Malaysian plane crash site or risk the ire of Europe.

EU Demands

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A man looks for the remains of victims in the debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, July 19. Bodies have been removed by rebels to 'freezer trains' on Sunday. (AP)

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