MH17 wreckage removal starts in east Ukraine

16th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Work started Sunday to remove the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, four months after it was shot down, killing 298 passengers and crew.

Dutch experts supervised a crew from the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic's emergency ministry as they began cutting pieces of debris with metal saws at the crash site near the village of Grabove, an AFP reporter said.

Investigators from the Netherlands heading the probe into what happened to July's doomed flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur said the work could take "several days".

"Today the recovery of wreckage from flight MH17 has started.

The Dutch Safety Board commissioned the recovery and transportation to the Netherlands of the wreckage as part of the investigation into the cause of the crash of flight MH17," the Dutch experts said in a statement.

The investigation team added that the wreckage would be collected before being transported to the government-controlled city of Kharkiv and then flown to the Netherlands.

The Dutch experts eventually intend to reconstruct a section of the doomed airliner.

A rebel official said they hoped to finish the operations in the next 10 days and that work would start on the largest chunks of fuselage first.

Some 15 members from the rebel recovery crew used a crane to winch wreckage onto two trucks waiting nearby to shift the evidence from the scene.

The team faces a race to complete the recovery effort before harsh winter conditions in the former Soviet state make it difficult to continue.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supplying pro-Moscow rebels with the missile that shot down the Boeing 777.

Russia and the separatists deny it, blaming Ukrainian forces instead.

A preliminary report by Dutch investigators published in September found the plane was hit by a large number of "high-energy objects", but did not apportion blame.

- Putin swaps G20 for bed -Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also denies providing military support to the separatists, came under fresh pressure over Ukraine and MH17 at the G20 summit in Brisbane.

After a series of frosty exchanges with fellow leaders, Putin left the summit early on Sunday, saying he needed to catch up on some sleep.

The MH17 probe team has so far managed to collect and identify the remains of 289 victims from the tragedy but its operations have been disrupted by fierce fighting in the area between Ukrainian forces and rebels.

Around the region Sunday, fighting dragged on between the two sides, with the Ukrainian military saying that six soldiers were injured as its positions came under mortar fire 26 times during the night.

In the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, fresh shelling broke out on Sunday afternoon after a quiet morning, an AFP reporter said.

The governor of neighbouring Lugansk region said there was only intermittent shelling there.

The latest clashes come amid a nominal ceasefire that has halted fighting along much of the frontline but not stopped regular artillery bombardments at strategic hotspots.

On a visit to Bratislava, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the conflict in the east would "end within two weeks" if the peace plan signed in Minsk in September was implemented.

Over 4,100 people have been killed in the conflict since April and almost one million have been driven from their homes, according to UN figures.

- Fresh EU talks Monday -The European Union and United States have slapped the toughest sanctions on Moscow since the collapse of the Soviet Union over its meddling in Ukraine.

EU foreign ministers will again discuss the situation in Ukraine at a meeting in Brussels on Monday.

A Ukrainian military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said Sunday there were "signs that rebels and Russian troops are preparing an offensive".

His comments came after NATO's commander in Europe, US General Philip Breedlove, said last week that "columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops" were entering Ukraine.

However, military analysts say such a move seems unlikely since the amount of hardware being moved into the east is insufficient for a major operation, which would also be unlikely in winter.

© 2014 AFP

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