Bodies leave Ukraine war zone, truce called at MH17 crash site
By Marion Thibaut with Stephane Orjollet in Donetsk, AFP
July 22, 2014, 2:25 pm TWN
TOREZ, Ukraine - A train carrying the remains of 280 people killed in the Malaysian plane disaster was finally allowed to leave a rebel-held region in eastern Ukraine as the militants declared a truce Tuesday around the crash site.
Five days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was allegedly shot out of the sky, pro-Russian separatists conceded to a furious international clamour for the bodies and the plane's black boxes to be handed over to investigators.
The devices, which record cockpit activity and flight data, were handed to Malaysian officials by the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Borodai, in front of scores of journalists.
"We will order a ceasefire in an area of 10 kilometres around" the site of the disaster, which killed all 298 people on board the plane, he said.
Meanwhile, after days of bitter wrangling, the rebels released the bodies of the dead.
Loaded on a train, they will arrive in the government-controlled city of Kharkiv Tuesday before being put on a plane to the Netherlands, where the flight to Kuala Lumpur originated and which suffered the greatest loss, with 193 citizens killed in the crash.
The rebel concessions came after US President Barack Obama insisted that Moscow force the insurgents it is accused of backing to cooperate with an international probe into the disaster.
Moscow, which has drawn ire for failing to rein in the rebels, backed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the downing of the plane and demanding access to the crash site.
A senior Russian defence ministry official insisted that "Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware".
Black boxes 'intact'
Malaysia Airlines, reeling from its second disaster in only four months after flight MH370 went missing in the Indian Ocean, had to defend itself late Monday after confirming it had diverted a flight from Ukrainian to Syrian airspace.
"The Syrian airspace was not subject to restrictions," the flag carrier said in a statement.
Malaysian experts on the ground in Ukraine said the black boxes were "intact with only minor damage."
"We have not found the black boxes from flight MH370, so (we) are happy to be able to recover these," said a member of the Malaysian team.
On the ground, the animosity between Ukraine's warring sides was underlined by intense shelling which erupted in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, killing five and leaving 12 wounded.
Obama put the onus to set the situation straight squarely on Russia, which he said has "direct influence over these separatists".
Russian President Vladimir Putin must prove "that he supports a full and fair investigation," Obama said.
The US president stressed that "the burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full, and unimpeded access to the crash site".