MH17 crash: More bodies transferred to Netherlands

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Media captionAnna Holligan reports from a military airbase in Eindhoven

Two transport planes carrying bodies and remains of those killed on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 have landed in the Netherlands.

The planes transported 51 bags containing bodies or body parts from Ukraine on Thursday, officials say.

The Netherlands received 40 bodies on Wednesday, and has now begun the long process of identifying remains.

Pro-Russian rebels have been widely accused of shooting down the plane, killing all 298 people on board.

The post-crash operation has become a multinational effort: the Dutch are leading the investigation; UK experts are examining data from the two flight recorders; and Australia has offered police help to secure the crash site.

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Media captionNear the site of the MH17 crash, the BBC's Natalia Antelava found a wooden house apparently destroyed by Ukrainian rockets

In Brussels EU diplomats say they have agreed to add 15 people and 18 entities to the list of sanctions against Russia and Ukraine, a move condemned by Russia's ambassador to the UK as "illegal, unreasonable and counterproductive".

Details of those affected by sanctions have not yet been released.

Talks on stepped-up action - which may include a ban on buying debt or stock issued by Russia's largest banks - are due to continue on Friday.

Separately on Thursday, Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned in protest at the earlier disbanding of the ruling parliamentary coalition, as well as what he called "the blocking of government initiatives".

It is not clear whether the resignation will be accepted by President Poroshenko, says the BBC's Olexiy Solohubenko, with the possibility Mr Yatsenyuk might continue in his post until a new cabinet is appointed within 60 days.


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Image caption Experts have expressed concern that forensic evidence at the crash site could be lost

The process of identifying the dead from the downed MH17 flight got under way on Thursday at a barracks south of the Dutch city of Hilversum.

A team of Dutch forensic scientists will examine the contents of the coffins, says the BBC's Anna Holligan in Eindhoven.

But there remains a discrepancy in the numbers of bodies counted by observers on the ground, and experts warn it could be months before all victims are identified.

Australia has sent 50 police officers to London to be on standby for deployment to secure the crash site, PM Tony Abbot said.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has gone with her Dutch counterpart to Ukraine to discuss the issue with the authorities in Kiev.

One hundred and ninety-three Dutch nationals and 27 Australians were killed in the MH17 disaster.

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Image caption The Last Post was played, followed by a minute's silence before the coffins were unloaded
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Investigators are now working to identify the bodies

Meanwhile, UK air accident investigators working with Dutch aviation officials have started to analyse information from the "black box" recorders at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch in Farnborough.

They said data was successfully downloaded and verified on Wednesday.

They are looking for voice recordings of the last moments of the plane's flight, as well as potentially vital information from after any missile strike, which could yield clues about the impact and effect of the strike.

The US has confirmed that it believes the plane was struck by an SA-11 Buk surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine - probably by mistake.

Buk surface-to-air missile system

Also known as SA-11 Gadfly (or newer SA-17 Grizzly)

Russian-made, mobile, medium range system

Weapons: Four surface-to-air missiles

Missile speed (max): Mach 3

Target altitude (max): 22,000 metres (72,000ft)

Source: Global Security

In a frank interview with Reuters on Wednesday, a leading rebel commander in eastern Ukraine, said he knew a battalion linked to the city of Luhansk did have a Buk launcher at the time of the MH17 crash.

"They probably sent it [the Buk] back in order to remove proof of its presence," Alexander Khodakovsky said.

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Media captionPro-Russian rebel leader Alexander Borodai : "There were no Buks in the area"

His comments contradicted a statement by the political leader of the rebels in the Donetsk area, Alexander Borodai, who used his BBC interview to deny the rebels had the weapon.

Meanwhile, CNN has announced that one of its Ukrainian freelance journalists, Anton Skiba, was abducted by armed pro-Russia separatists in Donetsk on Tuesday.

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Image caption Freelance journalist Anton Skiba was last seen outside a hotel in Donetsk on Tuesday

CNN said efforts to secure Mr Skiba's release had failed, so it was publicly appealing for his release.

In other developments:

  • At least 16 reportedly killed in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and rebels around Donetsk on Wednesday
  • Ukraine says the rebels shot down two military aircraft on Wednesday
  • Overall rebel military commander Igor Strelkov says in statement he has withdrawn his fighters from the outskirts of Donetsk

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