MH17 crash: Rebels refuse to hand over bodies

KUALA LUMPUR - Emergency workers recovered 196 bodies from the MH17 crash site at the Ukraine-Russia border but armed rebels forced them to hand over the bodies. They then loaded the victims onto refrigerated train wagons which are said to be bound for a rebel-held city.

The rebels have also found the black box but are hanging on to it. They say they will only deal with the International Civil Aviation Organi­sation (ICAO).

Investigation teams, including the one from Malaysia, remain barred from the crash area, cut off from what has been described as the world's largest crime scene.

These developments have renewed the international outrage over the "disrespect" being shown to the bodies of the plane crash victims. Already, there have been reports of rebels robbing from the dead.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who spoke to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, demanded that access to the site be granted at once.

Last night, the Prime Minister despatched Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman on an urgent mission to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein described the whole incident as "horrendous", and demanded to know where the bodies were now.

"We want to know who has taken the bodies and where they are being kept. I hope and pray the bodies are being treated with respect," he said.

The minister added that among the mandates that the Government was looking at was access for the Malaysian investigating team to enter the crash site and its safety. Thus far, the team has been blocked from doing so.

The Special Malaysian Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART), which arrived in Kiev on Saturday, has yet to be given the green light to head to the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

The investigation team leader Khairil Hilmi Mokhtar said the team cannot perform their duties because the crash site was still not safe to enter.

Hishammuddin also said the relevant authorities should ensure that there was no trespassing at the crash site as well as evidence did not disappear or be tampered.

Noting that Najib and he himself have lost loved ones in the tragedy, Hishammuddin stressed that the Government would not compromise and allow any party, including the Ukraine government and pro-Russian rebels, to drag Malaysia into its own problems.

"We do not care about geo-political intentions, we just want the truth out," he said.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is already in the Ukrainian capital to help pave the way for Malaysian investigators to access the scene.

Other leaders accused Russian President Vladimir Putin for reneging on his promise to help Malaysia get to the crash site.

"Pro-Russian terrorists have not handled #MH17 victims with dignity. Putin promised PM @NajibRazak he would help. He hasn't," tweeted Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who is Umno Youth Chief.

Health Minister Datuk Seri S. Subramaniam expressed outrage that the SMART team was not getting enough support from Russian and Ukrainian authorities in accessing the crash site.