Russia must facilitate inquiry into crash and cease support for militants, says US

Irishwoman among 298 people killed in suspected missile strike on Malaysian airliner

A pro-Russian separatist stands at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine yesterday. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

A pro-Russian separatist stands at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine yesterday. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Sat, Jul 19, 2014, 01:01

The United States has piled pressure on Russia to stop its alleged support for Ukraine’s separatists and to allow a full international investigation into the suspected missile strike that brought down a Malaysian airliner.

All 298 people on board were killed when the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur came down over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, in what Kiev called an attack by pro-Moscow militants using an advanced Russian-made rocket system.

Among the dead was Edel Mahady, an Irish woman in her 50s from Dublin, who was returning to her home in Australia after a visit to Ireland.

Malaysia Airlines said the plane was carrying at least 189 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons.

The Kremlin denied involvement and placed responsibility on Ukraine, which it claims is led by Russian-hating, US-controlled “fascists” who ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich earlier this year.

US president Barack Obama said the full UN Security Council had backed an investigation into “an outrage of unspeakable proportions”, and insisted Washington “would hold all its members – including Russia – to their word”. Calling for “an immediate ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine to facilitate the investigation, he added: “Evidence must not be tampered with . . . Investigators need to access the crash site. And the solemn task of returning those who were lost on board the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.”

There was little activity at the crash site yesterday, with bodies lying in fields, streets and people’s gardens, few restrictions placed on access to the wreckage, and no sign of forensic or investigative teams.

Mixed messages from rebels

Leaders of the rebels, who want eastern Ukraine to join Russia, also gave conflicting statements about whether they would co-operate with government officials from Kiev, allow access to foreign teams or support a ceasefire.

Heavy artillery was heard yesterday a few kilometres from the crash site, which is ringed by checkpoints manned by armed militants. Reports said about 20 civilians were killed due to shelling in the rebel-held town of Luhansk.

Last night, the 57-state Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said its monitors had visited the crash site but had not been granted satisfactory access. It could not confirm or deny reports militants fired warning shots as the observers approached.

“They did not have the kind of access that they expected. They did not have the freedom of movement that they need to do their job. The crash site is not sealed off,” said Thomas Greminger, Swiss ambassador to the OSCE. “In the current circumstances, they were not able to help securing this corridor that would allow access for those that would want to investigate.” He noted the team would try to return to the site today.

Agents from the US are also expected to fly to Ukraine to assist Kiev’s inquiry into the crash, and Samantha Power, Washington’s envoy to the UN, said investigative work should begin “immediately”.

“If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime,” she said.

Ms Power noted that rebel figures claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian military plane at about the same time and place as the airliner crashed, but later deleted these messages from social media sites.

Demanding action from Moscow, the Irish-born envoy said: “Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war.”