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Ukraine Plane Crash Bodies Removed from War Zone

Updated: 07/22/2014 2:54 PM
Created: 07/22/2014 10:51 AM KSTP.com

A train bearing the dead from the downed Malaysian airliner reached Ukrainian government-held territory at long last Tuesday, but the pro-Russian separatists in control of the crash site showed little willingness to allow the full-scale investigation demanded by world leaders.
    
Despite anger over the rebels' handling of the wreckage and suspicions they shot the plane down, the European Union spared Russia sweeping new sanctions Tuesday.
    
The EU imposed punitive measures against Russian individuals but didn't target entire sectors of the economy, preferring to wait for a clearer picture of last week's disaster and Moscow's suspected role.
    
Five days after the plane was blown out of the sky, a refrigerated train bearing victims' bodies - gathered up after several days in the sun - finally rolled out of the war zone and into a weedy railyard in the government-held city of Kharkiv.
    
It was unclear how many of the 282 corpses found so far were on the train. The crash killed all 298 people aboard the jumbo jet.
    
A team from Interpol along with three Dutch specialists started the identification process by labeling and numbering the remains, brought in body bags.
    
Then the bodies were to be flown to the Netherlands, the homeland of most of the victims, for identification using information from families.
    
Despite these and other indications of progress - the black boxes were handed over to Malaysia Airlines, and three airline investigators were given access to the site Tuesday - there was still no sign of a full investigation, and it was unclear when one could take place.
    
The wreckage lay unguarded across a wide stretch of farmland in the rebel-held east - a source of frustration for officials around the world eager to establish the facts. Even the red-and-white tape that had sealed off the fields had been torn away.
    
International observers, who have been allowed visit only when accompanied by armed separatists, warned there were signs that the debris was being mishandled or even tampered with.
    
The fighting, meanwhile, went on in eastern Ukraine. And Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at Ukraine's military for trying to dislodge the rebels.
    
Ukraine and Western governments say that the plane was shot down Thursday with a missile that was fired from a Russian-made mobile launcher in rebel hands. Russia denies supplying the Buk air defense system.
    
The Dutch government declared Wednesday a day of national mourning as the country prepared for the arrival of the first bodies, expected in the afternoon.
    
After a 17-hour journey from the town of Torez in rebel territory, the train carrying the dead arrived at a Kharkiv factory where Ukrainian authorities have set up their crash investigation center.
    
The train gave a low-pitched blast from its horn as the gray corrugated refrigerator cars slowly rolled past.
    
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned grieving families that the identification of some victims could take weeks or even months.
    
Separately, the flight data recorders will be examined by British air accident investigators.
    
At the crash zone, Malaysia Airlines officials walked the site wearing backpacks, photographing the scattered debris.
    
Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said observers will check to see whether the wreckage has been disturbed.
    
"We are keeping a very close eye on that - looking at the fuselage now compared to what it was on Day 1," he said. "And we have noted some differences."
    
In Moscow, Putin said Russia would do "everything in its power" to facilitate the investigation, including putting pressure on the rebels.
    
But he said that "was not enough" to resolve the situation. He challenged the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government, saying, "People came to power in an armed, anti-constitutional way."
    
In Brussels, EU foreign ministers urged Russia to use its influence over the rebels to ensure an independent investigation. In a statement, they said they want "all those in the area to preserve the crash site intact."
    
The 28-nation EU targeted more Russian officials with economic sanctions and travel bans. The ministers stopped there for now but asked the EU's executive arm to draw up more sweeping measures by Thursday if Russia fails to cooperate.
    
Those sanctions would target Russia's high-tech, energy and weapons industries.
    
"Russia has not done enough to contribute to a de-escalation of the conflict," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
    
The EU is Russia's biggest trading partner, and some members are wary of doing too much to antagonize Moscow.
    
The euro fell to its lowest point this year against the dollar amid fear the downing of the jet will further damage EU-Russia relations.
    
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius blamed "terrorists supplied by Moscow" for shooting down the airliner. He called for an arms embargo in a direct challenge to France, which is building two warships for Russia.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Police officers secure a refrigerated train loaded with bodies of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 as it arrives in the Kharkiv railway station on Tuesday.
Photo: AP/Olga Ivashchenko
Two KLM cabin crew reach out into a sea of flowers at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. A train carrying the remains of people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash arrived in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.
Photo: AP/Mike Corder

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