THE HAGUE - Dutch, Australian and Malaysian investigators at the eastern Ukraine crash site of downed flight MH17 are enlisting the help of local villagers in finding victims' remains and possessions, the Dutch justice ministry said on Wednesday.
"Residents are being asked to locate remains and personal belongings. They are also being given the opportunity to tell what they saw or experienced during the disaster," the ministry said in a statement issued in The Hague.
Flyers were distributed on Wednesday to villagers in Rozsypne, near where most of the wreckage was found, by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is providing back up for the search.
The probe into the cause of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 continued under difficult conditions on Tuesday, said Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the Dutch police mission in Ukraine.
A total 298 passengers and crew were killed when the Boeing 777 jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky almost three weeks ago.
The United States says insurgents shot down the plane with a surface-to-air missile likely supplied by Russia, but Moscow and the rebels blame the Ukrainian military.
On Monday, Malaysian experts also joined Dutch and Australian police for the first time as they continued combing the area for traces of the victims.
So far, 228 coffins with human remains have been flown to the Netherlands, which suffered the most casualties in the July 17 crash, where the painstaking identification process is taking place.
The probe into the crash - the second plane disaster involving Malaysia Airlines this year - has been repeatedly delayed because of fighting in the region between government forces and pro-Moscow separatist fighters.
"It once again became clear that the crisis is a limiting factor for the experts' work. The plain fact is that there is active fighting in the area," Aalbersberg said.
The Dutch official said the search would fail without local and regional support, adding it was becoming clear that many human remains were recovered by the local and regional authorities.
"This may explain why the experts have so far mainly found personal belongings," Aalbersberg said.