Disturbing reports emerged yesterday that the crash site of Malaysia Airlines MH17 was being looted, bodies were still lying where they landed, and critical evidence was being destroyed.
Expressing outrage, Malaysia criticised the tampering of evidence at the eastern Ukraine site, and made an urgent appeal for a safe corridor to allow officials to investigate and retrieve the remains of the 298 people who died.
Experts are widely of the view that the Boeing 777 jet, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down last Thursday while on a flight path used by several international airlines despite the political unrest in Ukraine.
Ukraine blames Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country for shooting down the plane, a charge the rebels and Russia have dismissed.
United States President Barack Obama called the downing of the plane “an outrage of unspeakable proportions”. He said at the White House that the US had concluded that MH17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile launched from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, but stopped short of identifying the perpetrators.
Russia, stung by insinuations by the US and other countries that it was to blame, hit back yesterday and accused the Obama administration of “pushing its own agenda”.
Of greatest concern yesterday were the accounts from the ground that the crash site was not secure and early teams of investigators were not being given access to start their work.
The Ukraine government accused pro-Russian rebels of taking jewellery, credit cards and cash from the site and trying to destroy evidence, reports said. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported that the government in Kiev had claimed that 38 bodies were removed from the site.
At a press conference in Sepang, near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, yesterday afternoon, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said: “Malaysia is deeply concerned that the crash site has not been properly secured.
“The integrity of the site has been compromised and there are indications that vital evidence has not been preserved in place.
“Yes, MH17 has become a geopolitical issue. But we must not forget that it is a human tragedy. Days after the plane went down, the remains of 298 people lie uncovered.”
He did not name the parties he was criticising, but he added that “the citizens of 11 nations – none of whom are involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine – cannot be laid to rest”.
A Malaysian disaster response team comprising 62 people arrived in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev yesterday, and Datuk Seri Liow left for Ukraine yesterday evening to lead the probe. Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya is already in Kiev. Some of the Malaysian next of kin of the victims said yesterday they were keen to go to the crash site, officials said.
Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife spent about two hours with grieving families at a hotel in the administrative capital Putrajaya. Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was also present.
The wreckage of Flight MH17 and the bodies of the 283 passengers and 15 crew are spread over several kilometres with no international forensic workers to secure the site, CNN reported yesterday.
A team of 21 from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who arrived at the crash site last Friday, was given only limited access by rebels guarding the area, CNN said.
Most of the dead were from the Netherlands (193), Malaysia (43), Australia (27), Indonesia (12) and Britain (10) with the rest from Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand.
The Netherlands and Malaysia ordered flags to fly at half mast, as leaders of both countries urged citizens to pray for the victims.
Relatives of the Dutch victims were reportedly preparing to go to the crash site, though it was unclear when or if they could overcome the logistical and security challenges to make the trip.
This article was first published on July 20, 2014.
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