AMSTERDAM — Malaysia's prime minister Wednesday called on Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists to agree to a cease-fire in the area surrounding the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down.
"The conflict in eastern Ukraine may not be easily resolved, but the people on board that plane had no part in it," Najib Razak said shortly before investigators succeeded in reaching the crash site.
Nearly two weeks after the plane's destruction on July 17, remains and personal possessions of many aboard have not been recovered — to the anguish of their relatives and friends.
"We ask there be an immediate cessation of hostilities in and around the crash site by both Ukrainian and separatist forces. We ask that all sides respect the lives lost and the integrity of the crash site so that the investigation may proceed," Razak said in a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague.
All 298 passengers and crew of Flight 17 died, including 43 Malaysians and 195 Dutch. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said around 80 bodies have yet to be recovered from the wreckage, which had been inaccessible to investigators for days due to fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russia separatists.
The remains of more than 200 victims that have been recovered and brought to the Netherlands are being painstakingly identified at a military base in Hilversum, a process expected to take weeks or months.
Razak is visiting the Netherlands to discuss repatriating Malaysian victims' remains and the security situation in Ukraine.
He signed a condolence register for victims and is to visit the Hilversum center later Wednesday.
Rutte said "the pain of the terrible accident is almost unbearable."