- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

HRABOVE, Ukraine — International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses of the victims of a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, trying to secure the sprawling site in hopes that a credible investigation of the disaster can be conducted.

The crash that killed all 298 people aboard the plane two days earlier intensified the already-high animosity on all sides of the conflict.

The Ukrainian government and separatist rebels accuse each other of shooting down the Boeing 777 with a surface-to-air missile. Many see the hand of Russia, either for its alleged support of the insurgents or perhaps firing the missile itself. The crash site is near the Russian border.


SEE ALSO: Pro-Russia rebel commander suggests passengers died days before Malaysian flight


Amid wide calls for an international investigation, doubts arose about whether the evidence was being compromised before inspectors ever reach the scene.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a phone call on Saturday that the sides should enter talks and stop fighting, according to a Kremlin statement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. counterpart John Kerry took a similar view, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday, the U.S. pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner likely was downed by an SA-11 missile and “we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel.”

The government in Kiev said militiamen have removed 38 bodies from the crash site and have taken them to the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It said the bodies were transported with the assistance of specialists with distinct Russian accents.

The rebels are also “seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia,” the Ukrainian government said Saturday.

In Donetsk, separatist leader Alexander Borodai denied that any bodies had been transferred or that the rebels had in any way interfered with the work of observers. He said he encouraged the involvement of the international community in assisting with the cleanup before the conditions of the bodies worsens significantly.

Ukraine called on Moscow to insist that the pro-Russia rebels grant international experts the ability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into the downing of the plane — echoing a demand that President Barack Obama issued a day earlier from Washington.

On Saturday, in the village of Hrabove, one passenger’s body was seen still strapped into an airline seat, with bare toes peeking out under long jeans. Another body was flung face-up into a field of blue flowers.

Treatment of the victims’ remains, left in the open air under a hot summer sun punctuated by bursts of rainfall, has provoked outrage and distress.

“The news we got today of the bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly, has really created a shock in the Netherlands,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Ukrainian president in Kiev. “People are angry, are furious at what they hear.”

Timmermans demanded the culprits be found.

“Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice,” he said.

Story Continues →