A chorus of outrage reached a crescendo Monday as world leaders demanded gun-toting pro-Russian rebels allow investigators to access the MH17 crash scene.
Almost five days after a missile attack downed the Malaysia Airlines jet, the Dutch prime minister said "all political, economic and financial options" were on the table if access did not improve to the area in eastern Ukraine. Mark Rutte told parliament his government's priority was to recover and identify the bodies of the passengers, 193 of whom were Dutch. "It is clear that Russia must use her influence on the separatists to improve the situation on the ground," Rutte added.
Malaysia's transport minister highlighted that a team of 133 experts and official flown in from his country had been prevented from accessing the site by separatists in the self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk."
"Malaysia is very concerned that the sanctity of the crash site has been severely compromised," Liow Tiong Lai said after arriving in Kiev. "Malaysia demands immediate and unrestricted access to the crash site and guaranteed safety for its officials and those of the international team. The international team is effectively being prevented from entering the crash site. It is imperative that international investigators and search and recovery personnel are afforded full and unhindered access to this site."
His comments echoed remarks by Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who voiced concern on Monday that the site looked more like a "garden clean-up" than a forensic investigation. At least least 27 Australian passengers were among the 298 people aboard the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777.
For months the Donetsk region of Ukraine where the jet was shot down has been the scene of battles between state troops and rebels wanting closer ties with Russia. Ukrainian army tanks were reported to be launching an assault to break pro-Moscow rebels' hold on the eastern city of Donetsk on Monday. It was the first major outbreak of hostilities in the area since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday also urged separatists to allow international experts access to the crash site.
The Malaysian transport minister said the Ukrainian government had been unable to establish a safe corridor to the area for his country's team, which includes forensics experts.
A mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has had limited access to the site, and on Monday three members of a Dutch disaster victims identification team arrived in Donetsk and were expected to visit a railway station near the crash site where nearly 200 bodies have been stored in refrigerated wagons. The rebels forced emergency workers at gunpoint to hand over 196 bodies recovered from the crash site and then had them loaded onto the train, Ukrainian officials and monitors told The Associated Press on Sunday.
On Saturday, the leader of the pro-Russia rebels told NBC News that some of the bodies of passengers aboard the downed jet were taken from the crash site to be "humane."
However, Alexander Borodai insisted that his pro-Moscow forces would not keep the humans remains from being returned to Western officials, adding "we are ready to hand over the bodies to those institutions that are on the side of our enemy."
When asked by NBC News whether he was in contact with Russian authorities, Borodai replied: "Officially, no." Unofficially? "No comment," he said.
Reuters and Keir Simmons and Albina Kovalyova of NBC News contributed to this report.
First published July 21 2014, 2:57 AM