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Heavy fighting in E. Ukraine prevents experts from visiting MH17 crash site

Published time: July 27, 2014 20:02
Chief of Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Alexander Hug walks with separatists at a railway station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez.(AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

Chief of Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Alexander Hug walks with separatists at a railway station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez.(AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

International experts have been unable to visit the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, due to heavy fighting in the Donetsk area. Kiev and anti-government forces are blaming each other for hampering the investigation.

Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane crash in Ukraine LIVE UPDATES

“We heard indications there's fighting going on,” said Alexander Hug, deputy head for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine.

“The situation on the ground appears to be unsafe...we therefore decided to deploy tomorrow morning,” he added.

Hug expressed concerns that the fighting near the village of Grabovo in Ukraine’s Donetsk region will “most likely affect crash site.”

Forensic experts arrived in Ukraine to recover the remains of passengers that have not yet been returned to the Netherlands for identification.

The Malaysian jet was carrying 298 people, the majority of them Dutch citizens, when it crashed on July 17. Coffins with the remains of 227 victims have already been delivered to the Netherlands.

Although the fighting is disrupting the investigation, the Netherlands, Australia, and Malaysia have ruled out sending an international armed mission to secure the crash site.

“We concluded there was a real risk that an international mission would immediately be involved in the conflict in Ukraine,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin

Anti-government forces have blamed Ukrainian authorities for the outbreak of violence around the crash site.

Kiev is “trying to avoid exposure” by intensifying military action in the area surrounding the crash site, said Aleksandr Boroday, prime minister of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk.

The behavior of the Ukrainian government “contradicts the decision by [President Petro] Poroshenko to declare the 40-kilometer zone around the site of the tragedy a territory of ceasefire,” he added.

Kiev hurried to deny the claims, accusing the militia in the Donetsk Region of hampering the work of the international expert team.

"Terrorists back to their normal outrageous practice: they don't allow OSCE monitors to access the MH17 site, claiming Ukraine army is fighting nearby,”
Ukrainian Foreign Minsiter Pavlo Klimkin wrote on Twitter. “Their argument is fake. Ukraine is committed to its unilateral ceasefire within a 40 kilometer zone.”

AFP Photo / Genya Savilov

But US photographer Patrick Lancaster, who arrived at the MH17 crash site on Sunday, confirmed to RT that Ukrainian forces are advancing in the area.

“There were jets flying overhead and we could hear explosions in the distance,” he said.

When Lancaster and his team tried to navigate their way out of the crash site area, “every road that we’ve turned on, there were tank tracks going towards [the nearby rebel-held towns of] Torez and Shakhtersk.”

“Locals told me that they witnessed Ukrainian tanks going down the road. It’s pretty obvious that the Ukrainian military is trying to retake Torez and Shakhtersk,”
the photographer said.

The situation in the area is “very dangerous. Very many explosions happening. Every few minutes there are several explosions and heavy gunfire,” Lancaster stressed. “I can see the two towns burning, basically.”

Russia assembles MH17 investigation team

Meanwhile, Moscow has put together a team of experts to take part in the international investigation. Oleg Storchevoy, desputy head of Russia's federal air traffic agency Rosaviation, has been put in charge of the group.

According to Storchevoy, the main task of the international experts will be “finding the true reasons which led to this tragedy,” because “the whole world, including Russia, is interested in objective investigation.”

“There was an official request from the Dutch side to include Russian experts into the commission,” he added.

The commission has just been formed, and it has not yet been decided whether Russian specialists will be require to travel to Ukraine to examine the crash site, Storchevoy said.

“But we are ready to participate in any actions deemed necessary by the commission,”
he added.

Storchevoy pointed out that there will be no military experts on the commission from the Russian side, since the accident under investigation involves a civilian aircraft.