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Bodies from downed jet piled in boxcars in Ukraine

Monday - 7/21/2014, 8:04am  ET

  • Gallery: (71 images)

YURAS KARMANAU
Associated Press

TOREZ, Ukraine (AP) -- Pro-Moscow rebels piled nearly 200 bodies from the downed Malaysian jetliner into four refrigerated boxcars Sunday in eastern Ukraine, and cranes at the crash scene moved big chunks of the Boeing 777, drawing condemnation from Western leaders that the rebels were tampering with the site.

The United States, meanwhile, presented what it called "powerful" evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile and training. Although other governments have stopped short of accusing Russia of actually causing the crash, the U.S. was ahead of most in pointing blame on Moscow for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that killed all 298 people aboard.

"Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists," Secretary of State John Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Australia spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone late Sunday, urging him to use his influence on the separatists to ensure the victims could be repatriated and international investigators could have full access to collect evidence. They said European foreign ministers will be meeting in Brussels Tuesday to consider further sanctions on Russia.

More than three days after the jetliner crashed, international investigators still had only limited access to the sprawling fields where the plane fell.

U.N. Security Council diplomats tweeted Sunday that the council would vote Monday afternoon on a draft resolution co-sponsored by Australia, France and Lithuania that would call for full access to the crash site and an independent investigation.

"Investigators must have immediate full access to MH17 crash site, & bodies treated with dignity," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant tweeted.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a blistering opinion piece for the Sunday Times, said "the growing weight of evidence" suggests the rebels shot down the plane, and if that is so, "this is a direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country lost 28 citizens in the tragedy, said Putin "said all the right things" during their telephone conversation about ensuring an international investigation into the disaster.

"I'm now going to try to ensure that as far as Australia humanly can, we insist upon these things happening," Abbott told Sydney Radio 2GB on Monday. "The site is being treated more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation, and this is completely unacceptable."

Russian officials have blamed Ukraine's government for creating the situation and atmosphere in which the plane was downed, but has yet to directly address the allegations that the separatists were responsible or were operating with technical assistance from Moscow.

The 109-square-kilometer (42-square-mile) crash site, spread out on farmland and villages, looked dramatically different Sunday, a day after armed rebels had stood guard while dozens of bodies lay in the summer heat. The rebels were gone, and 192 bodies were loaded into the refrigerated train cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometers (nine miles) away.

The Ukrainian government said in a statement on its website that a second train with four refrigerator cars had arrived at Torez station.

Emergency workers, who the rebels have allowed to operate under their control, were searching the sprawling fields. Cranes moved pieces of the plane around, apparently to look for more bodies underneath.

By Sunday night, Ukraine's emergency services agency said the total number of bodies found was 251, with dozens of body parts.

Kerry expressed outrage at the "grotesque" behavior of the rebels at the crash scene.

"Drunken separatists are stacking bodies into the back of trucks, removing materials from the site," he told ABC's "This Week." ''On Friday, we had 75 minutes of access to the site; on Saturday, three hours of access. This is an insult to everybody.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 192 citizens on the plane, told a news conference that repatriating the bodies was his "No. 1 priority."

He said all efforts were aimed at getting the train with the bodies to "territory controlled by Ukraine," adding that a Dutch military plane was being sent to Kharkiv to set up a coordination center.

Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said reports from the group's investigators in Ukraine suggest some bodies were incinerated without a trace.

"We're looking at the field where the engines have come down. This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized," he said from the crash site.

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