MH17 crash: Liow had to learn fast on the job

MH17 crash: Liow had to learn fast on the job
Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai addresses the media at a hotel near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on July 19, 2014.

AMSTERDAM - It has been a baptism of fire for Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai who has been thrust into the international limelight barely a month into the job.

He was in Beijing discussing how to expedite search efforts of MH370 and handle the next-of-kin's welfare when he received the shattering news about Flight MH17.

"I was in complete shock. These two aviation disasters have affected every Malaysian. Our country is hurting badly. I can empathise with the suffering and anguish of the victims' loved ones," he told The Star.

Liow, who arrived in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, said his mission had been to expedite the return of the victims' remains so their families could have closure.

His second mission was to ensure a smooth investigation.

Upon arrival, he met the country's then Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, chair of the Ukrainian Special Government Commission on MH17.

Groysman has been appointed acting Prime Minister of Ukraine following the resignation of Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Thursday.

"I told him (Groysman) our Government's demand that the bodies be released to us as soon as possible and that we are allowed access to the site. I had to put it forward very strongly and clearly that these things must be done immediately and he assured us of his help," he said, describing the three-day visit as a race against time to get things done quickly.

As the Ukrainian government was unable to promise safe access to the site, Liow said he had also entered discussions with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for a way to enter rebel-controlled Torez.

After negotiations, he said OSCE agreed to allow a three-man Malaysian expert team into the site.

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