MH17 plane crash: Ukraine rebels 'limit investigation'

Pro-Russian fighters patrol the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine - 18 July 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption The site of the crash is in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, making an investigation even more difficult

A team of international observers say pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have limited their access to the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines plane.

An OSCE spokesman said access to the site had been controlled by armed men, with one firing shots into the air.

It is believed flight MH17 crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from a rebel-held area in east Ukraine on Thursday.

All 298 people - including 80 children - on board died.

The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. It fell between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The 25-man observer team left the crash site after just over an hour
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ukrainian miners helped in the search for bodies of victims in wheat fields near the crash site

Latest figures released by Malaysia Airlines show the plane was carrying 192 Dutch nationals (including one with dual US citizenship), 44 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons (including one with dual South African citizenship, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines, and one each from Canada and New Zealand.

Earlier reports suggested that more than 100 passengers on the plane were en route to an Aids conference in Australia, but the forum officials later corrected that figure to six.

'Intoxicated guard'

Michael Bociurkiw, a member of the OSCE team, said their access had been limited despite assurances from the regional rebel commander that they would be allowed into the site.

"A visibly intoxicated armed guard fired his rifle in the air when one of the observers walked out of the prescribed area," Mr Bociurkiw told journalists.

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Media caption"The fields are littered with parts of MH17," reports Daniel Sandford

The 25 monitors withdrew after just over an hour, having been been unable to set up an access corridor for specialist teams to investigate the crash, he added.

Several bodies had been marked but left exposed to the elements, Mr Bociurkiw said, and rescue workers were unable to indicate whose responsibility it would be to remove them.

Thomas Greminger, the Swiss chairman of the OSCE's permanent council, told the BBC they would continue to work to see that an international investigation could take place.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A tribute to Albert and Marie Rizk, a couple who were two of 27 Australians on board the flight to Malaysia

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was essential for investigators to get full access to the crash site.

"Quite possibly there are attempts in place to sanitise the site. The site needs to be secure. The investigation needs to take place. And frankly anyone who tries to obstruct this is no friend of justice, is no friend of peace," he said.

The UN Security Council has called for a full and independent international investigation into what happened to the aeroplane.

The two sides in the Ukrainian conflict have accused each other of shooting it down.

Ukraine's government called the disaster an "act of terrorism" and released what they say are intercepted phone conversations that proved the plane was shot down by separatists.

But the pro-Russian separatists said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the airliner.

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Media captionPresident Obama says the deaths are an "outrage of unspeakable proportions"

On Friday, US President Barack Obama said evidence indicated that the plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a missile launched from a rebel-held area in eastern Ukraine.

He described it as "an outrage of unspeakable proportions", saying he would ensure "the truth is out".

Mr Obama said it was up to Russia to stop the flow of heavy armaments and fighters into Ukraine.

Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine's ambassador to the UN, said the attack would not have been possible if Russia "did not provide sophisticated anti-aircraft missile systems" to rebels.

But Russia denies supporting the separatists and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed claims that the country was connected to the attack.

"Regarding those claims from Kiev that we allegedly did it ourselves: I have not heard a truthful statement from Kiev for months," he told a Russian TV news channel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the crash was a "tragedy". He also called for a ceasefire and peace talks, but fresh clashes were reported on Friday less than 100km (60 miles) from the crash site.

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