World leaders on Sunday made a concerted effort to press for access to the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 crash site in Eastern Ukraine that is currently under the control of heavily armed pro-Russian separatist groups.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has so-far been the only international body to have briefly accessed the crash site along the Ukraine-Russian border where a Buk surface-to-air missile downed the plane Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard.
Now leaders are urging Russia — whom most international experts believe to backing the rebels — to help obtain access to the site as well as victims’ bodies.
"Malaysia demands that all human remains must be allowed to be recovered, identified and repatriated,” the country’s transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said Sunday in a news conference.
Lai urged that international monitors must enter the crash site and said he'll meet with the Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine Sunday.
A team of officials from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Britain's AAIB (Air Accidents Investigation Branch) and the United States' NTSB have established a Joint International Investigation Team, according to Lai. Separately, a Malaysian team of 133 officials and experts, comprising of search and recovery personnel, forensics experts, technical and medical experts arrived in Kiev on Saturday, Lai said.
"The Ukrainian government has informed the Joint International Investigation Team that the crash site is under the full control of separatist groups," Lai said, adding that the government has been "unable to establish a safe corridor to the crash site."
Britain is also looking for further European Union sanctions on Russia at Tuesday’s Foreign Affairs council in Brussels, according to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
“Russia likes to paint this as a battle between Russia and the West, Russia and the EU. (But) now the entire international community is ranged against Russia," Hammond told the BBC on Sunday. "We have been very forward leaning in the argument around sanctions against Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea, for its destabilization of Ukraine. Some of our European allies have been less enthusiastic."
The Dutch, who lost the most citizens in the crash, may arrive on site a day earlier.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a news conference Sunday that the country will likely enter the crash area Monday. The Netherlands will coordinate victim identification efforts, Rutte said, and the OSCE is negotiating with the separatists to bring the dead bodies under Ukrainian government control.
Speaking for the U.S., Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, that "We need Russia to publicly start to call for responsible action and themselves take actions with the separatists they have encouraged."
While Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said simply on CNN, "Putin, you have to man up."
ANASTASIA VLASOVA / EPA
Armed pro-Russian militants pass next to the wreckage of a Boeing 777, of Malaysia Arilines flight MH17 debris, which crashed during flight over the eastern Ukraine region near Donetsk, Ukraine, 18 July 2014.
For Hammond, the severity of the tragedy should push Russia to become more engaged in international relations.
"The Russians have influence if not direct control over these people. They have been supplying them, they have been supporting them, they have been providing them with succour. They cannot deny their responsibility for the acts that these people are carrying out."
First published July 20 2014, 1:07 PM