MH17 plane crash: Dutch experts examine bodies

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Media caption, Bodies from the MH17 crash are being kept on this train, as Natalia Antelava reports

Pro-Russian rebels have allowed Dutch investigators to examine bodies from the crashed Malaysia Airlines plane at a railway station in eastern Ukraine.

The three Dutch experts said the train might leave the town of Torez later.

All 298 people on board flight MH17 died when it crashed over the rebel-held area on 17 July. The US and other nations say there is growing evidence of Russian complicity in the crash.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting is reported in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk.

The clashes - involving heavy weapons - are continuing near the city's airport and the railway station, eyewitnesses say.

At least three civilians were reported killed, and one multi-storey building was seen on fire. Residents are fleeing the city, report BBC correspondents on the ground.

Media caption, "People are panicking" due to heavy fighting near Donetsk, reports Fergal Keane
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, At least three civilians were reportedly killed during Monday's fighting in Donetsk

The fighting in eastern Ukraine erupted in April and is believed to have claimed more than 1,000 lives.

In other developments on Monday:

  • Ukrainian officials say 272 bodies have so far been found
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says the Netherlands should lead an international inquiry
  • A separate group of 31 international investigators is now in the eastern city of Kharkiv. They are expected to proceed closer to the crash site shortly
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered government forces to halt fire in a 40km (24 miles) area around the crash site
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says it is essential to give international experts complete security so they can conduct an independent investigation

'Wake-up call'

The Dutch experts from the Disaster Victims Identification team are the first international investigators to arrive in the region where the Boeing 777 went down after being reportedly hit by a missile.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have been at the accident site, but their access to the wreckage was limited by the rebels.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, It remains unclear when the train can be moved from Torez
Image source, AP
Image caption, Ukrainian officials say 272 bodies have now been found at the crash site
Image source, AP
Image caption, Armed pro-Russian separatists have only allowed limited access to the crash site

On Monday, the Dutch experts examined some of the 196 bodies kept in refrigerator wagons in Torez, some 15km away from the crash site.

"I think the storage of the bodies is of good quality," team leader Peter van Leit said after the inspection.

The investigators added that they had urged the rebels to allow the train to leave.

Correspondents in Torez said the smell of decay emanating from the carriages was overwhelming.

The Dutch experts also later visited the crash site, where some passengers' remains were still lying in bags exposed to summer heat.

International reaction:

  • Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said all political and economic options were on the table if access to the crash site remained unsatisfactory
  • Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called on pro-Russian separatists not to use the bodies as pawns in their conflict with the Ukrainian authorities
  • US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US had seen major military supplies moving into Ukraine from Russia in the last month, including a convoy of armoured personnel carriers, tanks and rocket launchers

'Site compromised'

A Malaysian team of 133 officials and experts, comprising of search and recovery personnel, forensics experts, technical and medical experts has arrived in Ukraine. A separate UK group of air accident investigators is also there.

But the government in Kiev says it has been unable to establish a safe corridor to the crash site.

There has been international outcry over the way rebels have handled the situation, delaying access to the site and allowing untrained volunteers to comb through the area.

Media caption, Rebel leader Alexander Borodai said the black boxes had been taken to Donetsk

The rebels have said they will hand over MH17's flight recorders to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

But US President Barack Obama has accused rebels of tampering with other potential evidence and called for the international experts to be granted "immediate and full" access to the site.

"What exactly are [the rebels] trying to hide?" he said at a press briefing on Monday.

Mr Obama warned that Russia would "only further isolate itself" if it failed to compel the separatists to co-operate.

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (R) during a flower-laying ceremony at the Dutch embassy in Kiev

British Prime Minister David Cameron said there was strong evidence that pro-Russian separatists shot down the plane with an anti-aircraft system known as Buk.

Russia on Monday again denied allegations that it had supplied such missiles or "any other weapons" to the rebels.

Separately, the Netherlands announced on Monday it had opened an investigation into the disaster, which killed 193 Dutch nationals.

A spokesman for Dutch prosecutors said the charges could include murder, war crimes and intentionally downing an airliner.

The Netherlands claims the right under international law to prosecute anyone suspected of committing a war crime against a Dutch citizen.

The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the region of Donetsk.