NEW YORK - Malaysia remains hopeful that its MH17 investigation team will be allowed access to the crash zone because there are bodies and forensic evidence to be retrieved.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who met his Ukrainian counterpart Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the UN headquarters here yesterday, said he was told the area was still unsafe despite a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists.
"He told me that there is still shelling despite the ceasefire. So, he is unable to give a concrete schedule and firm commitment for the investigators to go to the crash site," the Prime Minister told Malaysian journalists after the half-hour meeting, the first between the two leaders.
He said Malaysia had to depend on Ukraine and if there was still shooting occurring, Yatsenyuk had told him that no investigator would be allowed in.
"We still want to bring those responsible to justice. This will be difficult with winter approaching and although it is a very difficult effort, we have to try our best," he added.
Asked if Malaysia would negotiate with the separatists, Najib said that while the line to deal with the rebels was always open, "I have to be mindful of the sensitivities of the Ukrainians".
In his Twitter account, Najib vowed to continue efforts to bring home the remains of the last three Malaysians and gather forensic evidence from the crash site.
In a recorded interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Najib spoke of his endeavours to retrieve the bodies and black boxes of the ill-fated flight and also negotiating with the rebels for access to the site.
"I'm afraid I had to act alone because it was very sensitive. I had to press the buttons, work back channels and even conduct the operation itself.
"I was literally guiding our team from one checkpoint to another on the phone until the mission was accomplished," he said in the interview on Wednesday.
Najib said he had also appealed to the "conscience" of the Ukrainian separatists and told them that the victims were not involved in the geo-political conflict in the region.
"I said, 'Come on. This is something you need to do (return the bodies and black boxes) because the families affected have nothing to do with what you are fighting for'."
Najib said the negotiations with the rebels were unprecedented because normally, governments only dealt with other governments.
"I felt I owed it to the families affected. I met each and every family and it really touched me. I was almost in tears. I could feel for them and I told myself that as a leader of a country, I needed to bring closure to the families," he said.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a missile near the Ukraine-Russia border on July 17, killing all 298 people on board.