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Rebels allow MH17 bodies to leave crash site

July 21, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: There were small signs of progress today in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines disaster over Eastern Ukraine. After an international outcry, rebels finally allowed remains of many of the 298 victims to leave the crash site. Their plane was shot out of the sky last week.

Neil Connery of Independent Television News reports on the day’s drama over the fate of the bodies.

NEIL CONNERY: Nothing prepares you for the scene inside this train. The gut-wrenching smell hits you first, and then the sight of the body bags, more than 200 victims from flight MH17.

Dutch forensic experts joined the small team of international observers granted access, but it’s the pro-Russian militia who are in control of what happens here. The observers plead for the militia commander to allow the train to move, so the victims’ final journey home can begin.

MAN: When the additional bodies that you have now on the way are here, can the experts then come on the train and leave? I have talked to the experts. We need to move the train.

NEIL CONNERY: But the answers from the militia were in short supply.

The refrigerated carriages containing the bodies are struggling to cope with temperatures touching 30 degrees Celsius outside. The bodies of victims of Flight MH17 which are inside these refrigerated carriages appear to have become some source of bargaining chip, the grotesque response to what has happened here over the past few days compounding the anguish of their families.

The outside world seems powerless to influence what happens here, and the militia want to keep it that way.

MAN: Journalists and…

(CROSSTALK)

NEIL CONNERY: Can we come with you now?

MAN: Yes.

NEIL CONNERY: Thank you. Thank you. He’s asking me — he’s allowing me through.

The observers then head to the crash site, where bodies and human remains are still being found. While some have their first chance to take in the scene, fresh fighting in the nearby city of Donetsk threatened to delay any movement of the train carrying the bodies.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, OSCE Spokesman: Some of you have seen the Donetsk railway station. There were explosions there today, so I think that’s complicated matters somewhat in terms of the logistics.

NEIL CONNERY: The train finally set off, heading away from this rebel area towards the city of Kharkiv, which is under the control of the Ukrainian government. Their final journey home seems to be under way.

GWEN IFILL: On the diplomatic front, claims and counterclaims continued to fly over who was responsible for the shoot-down. And Russia and its Ukrainian rebel allies faced new demands to allow a full investigation.

Four days in, and international teams are still pressing for unfettered access to the crash site, as Malaysia’s prime minister announced a deal to retrieve the flight recorders from the rebels who control the area.

NAJIB RAZAK, Prime Minister, Malaysia: The two black boxes will be handed over to a Malaysian team in Donetsk, who will take custody of them.

GWEN IFILL: But there were new accusations that the site has been hopelessly compromised.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko:

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine (through interpreter): Three notorious crimes were committed. The first crime is a terrorist attack committed from Russian weapons by Russian terrorists and Russian mercenaries. The second crime, I can’t look calmly at how the terrorists treated the bodies of those who died. Thirdly, destroying the evidence is absolutely unacceptable.

GWEN IFILL: In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to insist the real blame lies with Kiev for its offensive in Eastern Ukraine.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): I believe that if military operations had not resumed in Eastern Ukraine on June 28, this tragedy probably could have been avoided. At the same time, no one should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to pursue their own political goals.

GWEN IFILL: Putin insisted his government is doing everything possible to promote a full investigation.

But, in Washington, President Obama said he is not doing enough.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These separatists are removing evidence from the crash site, all of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide? Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia, and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation.

GWEN IFILL: Other leaders issued similar statements.

British Prime Minister David Cameron:

DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: The world is watching Putin, and they want to know, everybody wants to know that he will do everything in his power to make these separatists open up that site, so there can be a proper investigation.

GWEN IFILL: And in New York this afternoon, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution demanding international access to the site.