Blasts after experts finally reach MH17 crash site in Ukraine
By Anna Malpas with Max Delany, AFP
August 1, 2014, 12:45 am TWN
ROZSYPNE, Ukraine -- Explosions rang out near the crash site of downed flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine on Thursday as international investigators arrived for the first time in nearly a week after Kiev announced a surprise one-day halt to its offensive against rebels.
A small team of Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by international monitors reached the vast site of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet after days of fierce fighting between government forces and rebels had stopped them reaching the area.
The Dutch justice ministry said the team was so far only a “reconnaissance” mission but would hopefully pave the way for more experts to visit soon.
But in a sign of the continuing insecurity, an AFP team following some minutes behind the convoy heard loud blasts just a few kilometers away from the site and saw black smoke rising from a village close to where some of the plane wreckage is lying.
Ukraine's military had earlier announced a “day of quiet” across the entire east after a plea from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to halt fighting in the area of the crash, where remains from some of the 298 victims lie festering in the sun some two weeks after the jet was shot down over rebel territory.
Kiev — which has continually blamed rebels controlling the site for blocking the probe — warned however that insurgents had continued shelling its troops positions around the region.
On a visit to the Netherlands, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed for an “immediate cessation in and around the crash site by both Ukraine and separatist forces.”
The West says the insurgents likely shot down the plane with a missile on July 17, but Russia and the rebels said it could have been blown out of sky by a Ukrainian jet.
Lawmakers in Kiev ratified agreements with The Hague and Canberra that could see the two nations send some 950 armed personnel to secure the site where many of their nationals died.
The Netherlands has already ruled out the possibility of sending in troops as “unrealistic” over fears they could become entangled in Ukraine's murky conflict that has claimed over 1,100 lives in more than three months of bitter fighting.
Meanwhile, Russia's aviation authorities said a team of their own experts had arrived in Kiev and were hoping to reach the crash site.