European monitors reach MH17 crash site after Ukraine calls ceas - KALB-TV News Channel 5 & CBS 2

European monitors reach MH17 crash site after Ukraine calls cease-fire

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Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- International monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reached the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site on Thursday for the first time in almost a week, the OSCE mission said.

The OSCE team was accompanied by two Dutch and two Australian experts, the mission said via Twitter, and used a new route to access the site.

Fighting between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russia rebels near the crash site has repeatedly prevented international monitors and investigators from reaching the huge debris field, where human remains and victims' belongings still lie scattered.

Although many coffins holding body bags have been flown to the Netherlands, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told CNN that there could be as many as 80 bodies still at the scene.

Having finally reached the crash site, the OSCE team observed a moment's silence to mark two weeks to the day since the plane plummeted to Earth near the Russian border in rural eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.

Their arrival at the scene came as Ukraine's military announced a one-day cease-fire Thursday to allow international experts full access.

The statement issued Thursday by the Ukrainian Counter-Terrorist Operation's press center said the military would not take offensive action but will "respond to direct attacks."

The statement also accused the rebels of continued violence, including firing Grad rocket systems. "This demonstrates their attitude towards Ukraine and the international community," it said.

'Bittersweet' progress

OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told CNN that the team of eight OSCE personnel and four "very senior experts" had reached the site after six hours of travel -- a journey three times longer than usual.

The trip, which involved crossing between territory controlled by the Ukrainians and rebels, was only possible after high level political agreements were negotiated with both sides, he said.

"Although we are very, very relieved to be back at the site, it is bittersweet in the sense that we do realize that it's two weeks almost to the hour since that plane went down," he said.

The four experts are combing the debris field for a rapid assessment, Bociurkiw said. If the truce holds, more international experts will be brought in Friday from where they are waiting, about two hours to the west.

The temperature is nearing 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the scene is difficult to describe, he said. "We've been here multiple times and yet it hasn't gotten any easier. There are still human remains in front of me, we can tell by the smell, and there's so many areas that haven't been properly gone over, scoured."

Among those area is a chicken farm, he said, not currently in operation but where a fair amount of debris has been spotted. Human remains may be there too.

The experts are authorized to collect any remains they find and start the long process of transferring them back to the Netherlands for identification, he said.

While the observers saw evidence of tampering with the wreckage in the first few days, there are no obvious signs of change over the past week from what he's seen so far, Bociurkiw said.

'Long walk towards justice'

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak met Thursday in the Netherlands to discuss the international response to the crash.

Rutte said the Netherlands and Malaysia share three priorities in dealing with the crash: the repatriation of the victims and their personal belongings, "obtaining clarity" on the cause of the accident and making sure the perpetrators are brought to justice. He said that repatriation of the victims was the highest priority.

Najib also called for a cessation of hostilities by both sides around the crash site and "full and unfettered" access to the area.

With such access, authorities will be able "to find out what happened to MH17" and will be able "to achieve justice for the victims and their families," he said.

"We ask that all sides respect the lives lost, and the integrity of the site, so that the investigation may proceed. The long walk towards justice begins with this step."

The Netherlands, whose citizens made up about two-thirds of those killed in the crash, is leading the international investigation efforts.

Rutte said 68 police officers from Malaysia had arrived in Kiev, Ukraine, and will try to reach the crash site area. In addition, 24 Malaysian experts are aiding in efforts to identify victims' remains in the Netherlands, he said.

After their statements, Najib signed the book of condolences for the Dutch victims. Malaysia suffered the loss of 43 nationals in the crash, including 15 crew and two infants.

Lawmakers vote

The Ukrainian Parliament ratified agreements with the Netherlands and Australia on Thursday that will allow both countries to send teams -- including police, civilian and armed personnel -- to eastern Ukraine to carry out the investigation.

Other countries that had citizens on board MH17, such as Malaysia, can also send teams, but there can be no more than 700 armed personnel in total, the agreements stipulate. Only 250 of those who are armed can come from Australia.

According to the Cabinet Office, the missions are free to travel within Ukraine to relevant locations and "have a right to search and gather the remnants as well as investigate the catastrophe, to conduct other kinds of activities which can be jointly determined by participants of the multinational international mission."

Australia, which lost 38 citizens and permanent residents, has sent nearly 200 police officers to Europe to help with investigation and recovery efforts.

A Russian delegation is also in Ukraine and hopes to access the MH17 crash site on Thursday, according to a spokesman for the Russian Civil Aviation Authority, Sergey Izvolsky.

The delegation of three Russian experts will examine the aircraft wreckage on site in conjunction with members of the international investigation commission, he said.

They will also provide material the commission has requested, including radar data from the Russian Defense Ministry showing a Ukrainian fighter jet flying close to MH17, according to Izvolsky.

The United States and others say Russia has provided arms to rebels in eastern Ukraine, including heavy weapons such as a missile system like the one believed used to down the Malaysian airliner.

Russia and the rebel fighters deny involvement in the shooting down of MH17.

A CNN team managed to travel to and from the debris field safely Wednesday.

The CNN team saw no separatists, inspectors or Ukrainian soldiers at the crash site. Instead, the wreckage lay in eerie silence, while smoke from weapons fire rose in the distance.

Shrapnel holes were visible in the cockpit's remains and the site still reeked of jet fuel and the stench of decay.

 

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