The Indonesian Foreign Ministry is processing the handover of the bodies of four Indonesian passengers of the downed Malaysian airliner to their respective families, an official disclosed on Friday.
The four adult passengers were among 12 Indonesia nationals on board the plane, which was shot down by a ground-to-air missile in Ukraine last month. The remains of the eight remaining victims are undergoing autopsies by a forensics team of more than 100 specialists in Amsterdam.
The ministry's director for legal aid and protection of Indonesian nationals overseas, Tatang Budie Utama Razak, said the remains of the four victims were still at a forensics facility in Amsterdam as Indonesian embassy officials in The Haag were completing paperwork for the repatriation.
"We are awaiting the authorisation for the release of the remains from the forensics team, as well as some documents from the victims' next of kin," he said in a telephone interview.
"One victim's family wishes to bury the remains in the Netherlands, while other victims' families want to return the bodies to Indonesia. We are working to immediately complete the handover," Tatang said.
Meanwhile, Agence-France Presse reported from Kuala Lumpur that millions of black-clad Malaysians fell silent Friday in tribute to their 43 countrymen killed in the MH17 disaster as the first remains were brought home and laid to rest amid deep sorrow and anger.
People across the country of 28 million observed a minute of silence shortly after a Malaysia Airlines jet landed with the remains of 20 people killed in the incident.
Five weeks after the July 17 tragedy, the coffins and urns were conveyed to white hearses in a solemn ceremony presided over by Malaysian King Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah and Prime Minister Najib Razak at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. "No words can express the sense of loss in seeing the bodies return, my prayers are with the victims and families of #MH17," Najib said on his Twitter feed.
All 298 on board Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight MH17 were killed, including 193 Dutch nationals.
The West accuses Russian-backed separatists of shooting down the plane, while Moscow blames Ukraine.
The MH17 tragedy has compounded Malaysian grief over the troubling and still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 just four months earlier.
It vanished March 8 with 239 people on board after inexplicably deviating from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing path.
According to the Associated Press, the return of the bodies also represented a political triumph for Najib, whose already shaky popularity ratings were hit by his handling of the still unsolved disappearance of MH370.
"Today we mourn the loss of our people. Today, we begin to bring them home," Najib said in a statement. "Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Today we stand with you, united as one."
Najib claimed personal credit for negotiating a deal with pro-Russian separatists for the return of all the bodies. Few details have been released over what the separatists were given in return, and some critics have said that the negotiations with people many regard as terrorists set a dangerous precedent.
"Everyone wants closure for the families, there is no question," said Bridget Welsh, a research associate at the National Taiwan University. "But on the other hand, they [Najib's advisers] saw this as an opportunity for him to look good. It was critical for the government to be seen as responsive and differentiate itself from the handling of MH370."