UK & World News

  • 31 July 2014, 15:49

International Experts Reach MH17 Crash Site

International observers have reached the crash site of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine.

It is the first time experts have been able to visit the scene in almost a week due to fierce fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.

The ongoing violence has frustrated efforts by investigators to reach the site to recover the remains of victims and examine the scene of the disaster, which claimed the lives of 298 people.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's monitoring mission tweeted: "Monitors reach MH17 crash site for first time in almost week, accompanied by four Dutch, Australian experts. Used new route to access."

However, as observers arrived there were reports of loud explosions close to the crash site with black smoke seen coming from a nearby village.

A statement from the Dutch mission said a small team would carry out initial checks.

It said: "They will now only do initial reconnaissance, so that they can start searching as soon as possible during a later visit."

Shortly before they reached the area, Malaysia's Prime Minister called on the warring sides to agree to a ceasefire around the site.

Najib Razak said: "The conflict in eastern Ukraine may not be easily resolved, but the people on board that plane had no part in it."

Speaking at a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, Mr Razak added: "We ask there be an immediate cessation of hostilities in and around the crash site by both Ukrainian and separatist forces.

"We ask that all sides respect the lives lost and the integrity of the crash site so that the investigation may proceed."

Mr Rutte said: "The pain of the terrible accident is almost unbearable."

Earlier, Ukraine claimed it had suspended military operations to allow monitors to reach the site, but separatists were continuing to attack its troops.

But the rebels have accused Ukraine forces of breaching a ceasefire in the crash area, and so preventing monitors from carrying out their work.

Meanwhile, Russia's aviation authorities said a team of their own experts had arrived in Kiev and were hoping to reach the crash site.

Western countries blame rebels for allegedly shooting down the airliner with a missile, mistaking it for a Ukrainian plane, but the separatists deny any involvement.

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