Monitors gain better access to crash site

International monitors have been allowed to visit more of the site, despite gunmen hampering efforts.

A memorial to those killed on the Malaysia Airlines flight sits on the sidewalk outside the Netherlands Consulate General in New York on July 18, 2014 in New York City. Picture: AFP.

HRABROVE Ukraine - International monitors said on Saturday they have been allowed to visit more of the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, though gunmen still stopped them approaching some of the wreckage.

In sometimes tense scenes with pro-Russian rebels clearly uncomfortable at having observers and the press at the scene, a top official at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said access had improved since they arrived on Friday.

"We have now had the possibility to see a bit more of this rather large scene. We have observed the situation here as it was presented to us. We also had the possibility to speak to those who are in charge here, and ... to speak to inhabitants of a local village," said Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor of the OSCE special monitoring mission to Ukraine.

People react in front of the Schiphol airport on July 18, 2014, a day after a Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed in eastern Ukraine. Picture: AFP.

"As in any job, the cooperation improves over time ... we had better access today," he told reporters.

On Friday, a group of monitors were hampered in their work by "armed personnel who acted in a very impolite and unprofessional manner. Some of them even looked slightly intoxicated", an OSCE spokesman said.

On Saturday, gunmen formed a line to separate the observers from parts of the fields where the plane crashed, killing all 298 people on board.

World leaders have called for a rapid investigation into Thursday's airliner disaster, which could mark a pivotal moment in deteriorating relations between Russia and the West. The United States and other powers said a surface-to-air missile appeared to have been fired from rebel-held territory.

People gather during a candle-light vigil for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in Kuala Lumpur on July 19, 2014. Picture: AFP.

Ukraine has said Russia played a decisive role in shooting down the plane, and called on Moscow to hand over what it said was the Russian crew of the SA-11 radar-guided missile system.

The pro-Russian rebels, however, say they have not touched the site and blame the Ukrainian authorities for not allowing other experts access to the site.

At one point on Saturday, a Reuters correspondent heard a senior rebel tell the OSCE delegation they could not approach the wreckage and would simply be informed in due course of an investigation conducted by the separatists.

Fighters later let them visit an area where one of the Boeing 777's two engines lay.

CONDEMNATION

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko condemned the interference with work at the crash site, saying he would not tolerate behaviour that threatened an objective investigation.

"We will not tolerate interference with the work of the commission," he said.

Some officials fear that the crash site may have already been compromised.

People lay flowers and light candles in front of the Schiphol airport on July 18, 2014, a day after a Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed in eastern Ukraine. Picture: AFP.

Locals wandered over a part of the crash site on the outskirts of the village of Rozsypne, leaving flowers and toys on the wreckage. A Reuters witness saw that some of the debris had been moved since Friday.

The rebels called for help from Moscow to recover bodies starting to rot after two days in baking summer heat.

"There's a grandmother. A body landed right in her bed. She says "please take this body away'. But we cannot tamper with the site," rebel leader Aleksander Borodai said.

"Bodies of innocent people are lying out in the heat. We reserve the right, if the delay continues ... to begin the process of taking away the bodies. We ask the Russian Federation to help us with this problem and send their experts."