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Dutch: Plane crash site needs full forensic sweep

By David Mchugh

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 21 2014 10:48 a.m. MDT

Forensic experts load remains of victims of the Malaysian Airlines plane crash at Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 21, 2014. Dutch experts called Monday for a full forensic sweep of the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down and told armed separatists guarding rail cars full of victims' bodies the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.

Dmitry Lovetsky, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

HRABOVE, Ukraine — Dutch experts called Monday for a full forensic sweep of the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down and told armed separatists guarding rail cars full of victims' bodies the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.

Four days after the Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky, international investigators still had only limited access to the crash site, hindered by the pro-Russia fighters who control the verdant territory. Pressure was growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin — who the U.S., Ukraine and others say has armed the Russian-speaking rebels — to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane.

Russia has denied backing the separatists.

In Washington, President Barack Obama demanded that international investigators get full access to the crash site and accused the separatists of removing evidence.

"What exactly are they trying to hide?" he asked, a day after the U.S. presented what it called "powerful" evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air Buk missile.

In farm fields near the eastern village of Hrabove, Peter Van Vilet, leader of the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team visiting Ukraine, said seeing the crash site was an emotional experience that gave him goose bumps despite the heat.

The team — which specializes in victim recovery and identification — observed some victims' remains that had not yet been removed from the crash site and pressed the rebels to seal the refrigerated train cars parked in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometers (9 miles) away.

The Dutch team also inspected the plane luggage gathered at the crash site and suggested it be put in a container and shipped out.

At the U.N. in New York, the Security Council will vote later Monday on an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the crash site and a cease-fire around the area. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country would view a Russian veto of the resolution "very badly," adding that "no reasonable person" could object to its wording.

At the Torez train station, the Dutch investigators stood for a moment with their heads bowed and their hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect the train cars, surrounded by armed rebels.

There is great concern in the Netherlands about the bodies, since 192 of the plane's 298 victims were Dutch and another was Dutch-American. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday that repatriating the bodies was his "No. 1 priority."

AP journalists said the smell of decay was overwhelming at the Torez train station and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to their faces on the sunny, 84 degree Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) day. A Ukrainian train engineer told The Associated Press that a power outage had hit the rail cars' refrigeration system for several hours overnight but the power was back up Monday.

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

It was not clear where the train would go. 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, emergency workers retrieved 21 more bodies Monday, bringing the total to 272 bodies, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

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