Dutch tell rebels: Train full of bodies must leave

By Dmitry Lovetsky

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 21 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Peter Van Vilet, team leader of Netherlands' National Forensic Investigations Team exits a carriage while inspecting a refrigerated train loaded with the bodies of passengers moved from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, located 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, in Torez, eastern Ukraine, Monday, July 21, 2014. Another 21 bodies have been found in the sprawling fields of east Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed last week, killing all 298 people aboard.

Vadim Ghirda, Associated Press

HRABOVE, Ukraine — Dutch forensic investigators told armed separatists guarding train cars full of bodies from the downed Malaysia Airlines jet that the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.

The experts from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team — which specializes in victim recovery and identification — also pressed Monday for rebels to seal the refrigerated train cars parked in the rebel-held town of Torez.

Four days after Flight 17 was shot out of the sky, international investigators still have had only limited access to the crash site, hindered by the pro-Russia fighters who control the verdant territory in eastern Ukraine. Outrage over the delays and the possible tampering of evidence at the site was building worldwide, especially in the Netherlands, where 192 of the plane's 298 victims were Dutch and another was Dutch-American.

AP journalists said the smell of decay was overwhelming at the Torez train station Monday and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to their faces on the sunny, 84 degree Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) day.

Earlier, a Ukrainian train engineer told The Associated Press that a power outage had hit the cars' refrigeration system for several hours overnight but was back up early Monday.

The investigators led by Peter Van Vilet of the Dutch LTFO forensic office stood for a moment with their heads bowed and hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect the train cars, surrounded by armed rebels.

"I think the storage of the bodies is of good of quality," Van Vilet said. "We got the promise the train is going."

However, he said the rebels did not say exactly when the train would leave. The Ukrainian government is hoping it will go to the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv, where it has set up a crash crisis center, but the rebels have not confirmed any movement yet.

In Kharkiv, another team of international experts arrived, including 23 Dutch, three Australians, two Germans, two Americans, and one person from the U.K.

At the charred crash site itself near the eastern village of Hrabove, emergency workers retrieved 21 more bodies Monday, bringing the total to 272 bodies, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

Fighting flared again Monday between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk, just 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the west of the crash site. City authorities said battles were taking place near the town's airport. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from that direction.

Fighting began in mid-April between the government and the Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula a month earlier.

Pressure has been growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin — who the U.S. and others say has backed and armed the rebels — to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane.

Russia has denied backing the separatists.

Australia, meanwhile, pressed for a U.N. resolution calling for uninhibited access to the crash site and asking for the full cooperation of all countries in the region, including Russia.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped Russia will support the Security Council resolution.

"We would hope that, given what has happened, there would be unanimous support behind the principle of unfettered access to those who have the task of identifying and repatriating the victims, as well as to the investigators," Cameron's spokesman said.

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