International experts reach MH17 crash site

A group of international experts Thursday reached the crash site of the Malaysian passenger airliner in eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian government called a daylong truce in that restive region.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) along with four Dutch and Australian experts arrived at the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, the OSCE mission in Ukraine said in a statement Thursday.

“OSCE observers have for the first time in almost a week arrived at the MH17 jet crash scene and they are escorted by four experts from the Netherlands and Australia,” ITAR-TASS quoted the statement as saying, adding that the observers and the experts reached the site using a new route.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman stated earlier in the day that local militias in the Donetsk region stopped the OSCE observers and the experts from visiting the crash site.

Flight MH17, while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed July 17 in the Donetsk region, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The dead included 193 Dutch nationals and 27 Australians.

Reports indicated that the Boeing 777 crashed after being hit by a missile. US President Barack Obama said initial investigations showed that the missile was fired from an area in Ukraine controlled by anti-Kiev militants.

Pro-Kiev troops and local militias in the Ukraine’s southeastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions are involved in fierce clashes as the Ukrainian armed forces are conducting a military operation to regain control over the breakaway regions, which proclaimed their independence in May following local referendums.

Earlier Thursday, Ukraine suspended military operations against pro-Russian separatists at the request of the UN to allow the international experts access to the crash site.

Kiev declared Thursday the “day of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)” upon the request of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to facilitate work at the crash site, Efe news agency reported.

The UN chief Wednesday harshly criticised the obstacles faced by international forensic investigators who travelled to Ukraine to investigate the downing of the Malaysian plane.

However, Ukrainian authorities accused the rebels of breaking the ceasefire and firing Grad missiles at dawn Thursday on the town of Pobednoye near Lugansk.

The separatists, who have lost ground to government troops in the past weeks, argued they had not been informed about the ceasefire.

“We have not heard anything about this and it seems Kiev neither”, a spokesperson for the militias told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, adding that fighting between the two sides continued even on the outskirts of the town of Shakhtiorsk, one of the closest to the area where the wreckage of the Boeing 777 lies.

The press chief of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Lugansk, Vladimir Inogorodtsev, claimed that “saboteurs” fighting on the Ukrainian side had fired mortar shells on residential areas in Lugansk.

Meanwhile, a team of 68 Malaysian police personnel arrived in Kiev Thursday to work together with the Dutch and Australian teams.

“Malaysia fully supports the international investigation, and we are grateful to the Netherlands for their lead role in the international team,” Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said during a joint press briefing with the host Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague.

Sending back to their homes the remains of the victims as fast as possible is a shared priority, Razak said.

“Malaysian experts were already helping here in the Netherlands with the painstaking task of identification – and we stand ready to provide more assistance if required,” Razak said in his statement.

“On behalf of Malaysia, I would like to thank Rutte and the Dutch people for all they have done, and continue to do, for the victims of this senseless and tragic act,” he said.

“Our other priority is to ensure the international investigators are given full and unfettered access to the site, so that they may collect evidence and carry out their vital work. Only then will we be able to find out what happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17,” Razak stated.

“If we can find out what happened to the flight only then can we achieve justice for the victims and their families.”