International probe to begin at MH17 crash site in Ukraine

International probe to begin at MH17 crash site in Ukraine

ROZSYPNE - International experts will attempt on Friday to begin a stalled investigation at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as Ukrainian forces threaten to resume their offensive against pro-Russian rebels after a one-day halt.

The international probe into the downing of flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine inched forward on Thursday as experts risked attack to reach the site for the first time in nearly a week after Kiev announced a halt to its military offensive.

A small team of Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by international monitors accessed the vast site of the Malaysia Airlines jet after days of fierce fighting between government forces and rebels had stopped them reaching the area.

Dutch police heading up the international probe said the situation around the crash site remained perilous despite the small team managing to access the scene.

"The security situation is still very unstable," Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the mission to repatriate the remains of the victims, told journalists in Kiev.

"We are not absolutely sure if we can reach the crash site with the whole team of experts in the near future, but we are more hopeful than we were yesterday," he said.

In a sign of the continuing insecurity, an AFP team following some minutes behind the convoy heard loud blasts just a few kilometres away from the site and saw black smoke rising from a village close to where some of the plane wreckage is lying.

Ukraine's military had earlier announced a "day of quiet" across the entire east after a plea from UN chief Ban Ki-moon to halt fighting around the crash site, where the remains of some of the 298 victims still lie in the sun two weeks after the jet was shot down over rebel territory.

Kiev has repeatedly blamed pro-Russian rebels controlling the site for blocking the probe and warned that insurgents were still shelling its troop positions across the region. The rebels responded that Ukraine had not stuck to its truce.

Daily work to start

On a visit to the Netherlands, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed for an "immediate cessation in and around the crash site by both Ukraine and separatist forces."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday's site visit went well and gave a guarantee that experts would be able to work daily at the scene from Friday in a phone call with the Australian and Dutch prime ministers, calling on rebels to respect a 20-kilometre (12-mile) ceasefire zone around the debris.

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