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Kerry says missile brought from Russia downed Malaysian jet

Source: Reuters - Sun, 20 Jul 2014 15:34 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds OSCE)

* Ukraine says rebels hamper access to crash site

* Bodies removed from crash site

* Many said to be stored on refrigerated train

* Britain says Russia faces "pariah" status

* Kerry says missile system brought in from Russia

By Anton Zverev and Peter Graff

HRABOVE, Ukraine, July 20 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the evidence indicates that a Russian missile was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, while Britain said Moscow faced "pariah" status and the threat of further economic sanctions.

At the biggest crash site, where emergency workers had bagged dozens of bodies on Saturday, all had been removed on Sunday morning. Empty, bloodstained military stretchers that had been used to carry them lay by the road, and rescue workers used a crane to move wreckage to reach human remains trapped beneath.

As Ukraine accused separatist rebels of hiding evidence relating to Thursday's downing of the airliner over eastern Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives, a pro-Russian separatist leader said items thought to be the stricken Boeing's "black boxes" were now in rebel hands.

With Western anger rising at the apparently disrespectful treatment of the bodies by the rebels controlling the widely spread crash sites, nearly 200 corpses were taken to be stored on a refrigerated train at Torez, 15 km (9 miles) away.

"It's corpses. They brought the bodies overnight," a duty officer at the town's station told Reuters.

Officials from the OSCE, the European security body, were able to inspect some of the railway wagons.

Moscow denies involvement in shooting down the airliner and has blamed the Ukrainian military. But Washington and its allies point the finger at the pro-Russian separatists who have Moscow's backing and have been accused of obstructing access to the crash sites.

Kerry said the United States had seen supplies moving into Ukraine from Russia in the last month, including a 150-vehicle convoy of armoured personnel carriers, tanks and rocket launchers given to the separatists.

The United States had intercepted conversations about the transfer to separatists of the Russian radar-guided SA11 missile system it blames for the downing of the Boeing 777, he said.

"It's pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia," Kerry said in an interview on CNN.

Britain said Moscow could find itself isolated if it did not use its influence to ensure safe access to the crash sites and cooperate with international investigators. "Russia risks becoming a pariah state if it does not behave properly," Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sky television.

The downing of the airliner has sharply escalated the crisis in Ukraine, and may mark a pivotal moment in international efforts to resolve a situation in which separatists in the Russian-speaking east have been fighting government forces since protesters in Kiev forced out a pro-Moscow president and Russia annexed Crimea.

ECONOMIC SANCTIONS

EU ministers should be ready to announce a fresh round of sanctions at a meeting of the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council this week, said a statement from British Prime Minister David Cameron's office, issued after telephone calls with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"They ... agreed that the EU must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday," the statement said.

The leaders also agreed to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure investigators had free access to the crash site.

While Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a renewed appeal for backing from the international community, some European nations, with an eye to their trade links with Russia, have been less enthusiastic about confronting Moscow.

The United Nations Security Council was considering a draft resolution to condemn the attack, demand armed groups allow access to the crash sites and call on states in the region to cooperate with an international investigation. It could be put to a vote as early as Monday.

The Netherlands, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the 298 on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, said it was "furious" about the manhandling of corpses strewn over open country and asked Ukraine for help to bring "our people" home.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the disaster showed it was time to end the Ukraine conflict and Germany called it Moscow's last chance to cooperate.

European powers seemed to swing behind Washington's belief that Russia's separatist allies were to blame. That might speed new sanctions on Moscow, without waiting for definitive proof.

BODIES TAKEN

A spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, Andriy Lysenko, accused the rebels of a cover-up. "The terrorists are doing everything to hide the evidence of the involvement of Russian missiles in the shooting down of that airliner," he told a news conference in Kiev.

He said the rebels had taken debris and bodies from the crash site in trucks, tampering with a scene that investigators need to be secure to have a chance of determining what, and who, caused the plane to plunge into the steppe.

A separatist leader said items thought to be the "black box" voice and data recorders from the airliner had been found.

"They are under our control," Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, told a news conference.

MEMORIAL SHRINE

Observers from Europe's OSCE security agency visited part of the crash site for a third day on Sunday. Just before their arrival, emergency workers found parts of three more bodies and put them in black body bags on the side of a road.

At the site where the cockpit fell, in a field of sunflowers near the village of Razsypnoye, residents had made a small memorial shrine of flowers, candles in tiny jars and brightly coloured teddy bears.

Photocopied pictures of children and families killed in the disaster, apparently from news coverage of the victims, had been set out on the grass.

All bodies, including that of a woman who had lain naked under a tarp about 50 metres away, had been removed.

"There were five or six over here, and two or three over there," said a young man with a rifle guarding the site, who declined to give his name. "They took the bodies away to the morgue. Firstly, they were decomposing. And secondly, the smell was horrible."

In the Netherlands, prayers were said for the dead. Priests lit a candle for each of the 298 victims at St Bavo's Cathedral in Haarlem.

Fighting, meanwhile, continued. Ukrainian positions were fired on twice from across the border with Russia overnight, the Ukrainian armed forces said on Sunday.

The army said mortar attacks from the direction of Russia aimed at Ukrainian posts were recorded just after midnight and again at almost 2 a.m. local time.

Malaysia Airlines said that following the disaster, the MH17 flight number "will be retired out of respect for our crew and passengers". The route would now be designated MH19. (Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Elizabeth Piper in Kiev, Jim Loney, Doina Chiacu, Ayesha Rascoe in Washington, William James in London and Nicholas Vinocur in Paris; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Dale Hudson and David Stamp)

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