KIEV, July 19:
Ukraine on Saturday accused Russia of helping separatist insurgents they say shot down Malaysian airliner MH17 try to destroy evidence at the crash site.
“The Ukrainian government officially announces: terrorists with the support of Russia are trying to destroy proof of this international crime,” Ukraine’s government said in a statement.
Pro-Moscow rebels had removed 38 bodies from the crash site to a morgue in the insurgent-controlled city of Donetsk where “specialists with clearly Russian accents” said they would conduct autopsies, the statement alleged.
Separatist forces were also blocking access to the site for Ukrainian investigators and international observers and searching for lorries to transport the wreckage to Russia, the statement claimed.
An AFP crew at the scene of the crash on Saturday said that armed rebels were preventing journalists from accessing the site and shot in the air to warn them back.
One rebel commander said that dozens of bodies had been removed to the morgue in Donetsk as rescue workers under their supervision continued to collect body parts.
“Twenty seven bodies were taken away” this morning, the insurgent commander said, refusing to give his name.
A group of international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) told AFP that they hoped to return to the crash scene on Saturday afternoon after only being granted very limited access to the site by armed rebels a day earlier.
World leaders have called for unfettered access to the crash site to allow for a full investigation into Thursday’s apparent shooting down of the jet, that killed all 298 people on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Investigators from the Netherlands and Malaysia have already jetted into Ukraine with the hope of heading out to scene of the crash.
Kiev said earlier on Saturday that rebels had agreed with a trilateral group of mediators to set up a security zone around the site.
Ukrainian authorities have accused the rebels of shooting down the plane in a “terrorist act” and released a recording of what they claim is an intercepted call between a rebel commander and Russian intelligence agent discussing how they had hit the jet.
The rebels though alleged Kiev’s forces were responsible for downing the plane and Russia’s defence ministry says it had evidence indicating that Ukrainian missile systems were active in the area.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Russia fought back on Saturday against claims of its involvement in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, instead implying that the government in Kiev might be responsible.
Russian deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov went on national television on Saturday to reel off a list of 10 “simple” questions for the Ukrainian government, which he said were key to determining who shot down the Malaysian airline.
“Answers to these questions would allow all of us, not only in Russia but also in the West and the east, in Asia, to try and find an answer to the most important question: what happened in the sky over Ukraine and what we need to do so that this does not happen again,” Antonov said.
He said Kiev should release details regarding its alleged use of Buk missile systems in eastern Ukraine, and explain why they were being operated if separatists don’t possess aircraft.
The Russian defence ministry on Friday claimed that the radars of Ukraine’s Buk missile systems — the weapon thought to have been used to shoot down the jet — were in use on the day of the crash.
Antonov added that Ukraine’s armed forces should give international experts access to documents relating to their air-to-air missiles and ground-to-air missiles.
He also wondered why Ukrainian air-traffic controllers had allowed the passenger jet to stray to the north, in the direction of a conflict zone.
Both Russia and Ukrainian forces have variants of the Buk, a surface-to-air missile believed to be the most likely culprit for the downing of the jet.
Ukraine blames Russian-backed separatists, while Russia says that Ukraine was operating missile systems on the day of the tragedy.