MH17: West calls on Russia to cooperate
Britain said Moscow faced “pariah” status and the threat of further economic sanctions.
HRABOVE/DONETSK Ukraine - Ukraine on Sunday accused separatist rebels of hiding evidence that a Russian missile was used to shoot down a Malaysian airliner, 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 taken away on Sunday morning. Empty, bloodstained military stretchers that had been used to carry them lay by the road.
With Western anger rising at the apparently disrespectful treatment of the bodies by pro-Russian rebels controlling the crash site, nearly 200 corpses had been put on a refrigerated train at Torez, 15 km away.
Bodies of victims wrapped in bags wait to be collected at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on 19 July, 2014.
"It's corpses. They brought the bodies overnight," a duty officer at the town's station told Reuters.
He said the wagons were due to be transported east "in the direction of Ilovaisk", but a senior rebel official, Sergei Kavtaradze, said they would not move until the issue of what to do with them was resolved.
Moscow denies involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on Thursday and has blamed the Ukrainian military. But Washington and its allies have pointed the finger at pro-Russian separatists who have Moscow's backing.
Britain said Russia could find itself isolated if it did not use its influence over the rebels to ensure safe access to the crash site and cooperate with international investigators.
"Russia risks becoming a pariah state if it does not behave properly," British Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said on Sky television.
The downing of the airliner with the loss of nearly 300 lives 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-Russian president and Russia annexed Crimea.
Britain said it would seek to persuade other European nations at a European Union meeting on Tuesday to ratchet up economic sanctions on Russia. Some European nations, with an eye to their trade links with Russia, have been less enthusiastic about confronting Moscow over Ukraine.
The UN 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.
Australia - which lost 28 citizens - circulated a draft text, seen by Reuters, to the council late on Saturday and 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.
US 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 Russia's separatist allies were to blame. That might speed new trade sanctions on Moscow, without waiting for definitive proof.
Britain, which lost 10 citizens, said further sanctions were available for use against Russia. Prime Minister David Cameron, writing in The Sunday Times, said European countries should make their power count. "Yet we sometimes behave as if we need Russia more than Russia needs us."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful figure in the EU, spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, urging his cooperation.
Merkel's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper: "Moscow may have a last chance now to show that it really is seriously interested in a solution."
Germany, reliant like other EU states on Russian energy and more engaged in Russian trade than the United States, has been reluctant to escalate a confrontation with Moscow that has revived memories of the Cold War. But with military action not seen as an option, economic leverage is a vital instrument.
A spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council said rebels were doing all they could to hide evidence that a Russian missile downed the airliner.
"The terrorists are doing everything to hide the evidence of the involvement of Russian missiles in the shooting down of that airliner," Andriy Lysenko 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.
"The terrorists took 38 bodies to the regional hospital (in Donetsk). About the other bodies, we do not know where they could have taken them," Lysenko said.
Earlier, driving home its assertion that the Boeing 777 was hit by a Russian SA-11 radar-guided missile, Ukraine's Western-backed government said it had "compelling evidence" the battery was not just brought in from Russia but manned by three Russians who had now taken the vehicle-mounted system back over the border.
The prime minister, denying Russian suggestions that Kiev's forces had fired a missile, said only a "very professional" crew could have brought down the speeding jetliner from 33,000 feet - not "drunken gorillas" among the ill-trained insurgents who want the east to be annexed by Moscow.
The Wall Street Journal reported that US intelligence assessments indicated that Moscow likely provided rebels with sophisticated anti-aircraft systems in recent days.
The paper cited US officials as saying they now suspect that Russia supplied the rebels with multiple SA-11 systems by smuggling them in with other equipment, including tanks.
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 from the site.
"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."
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was "very concerned" over reports that the remains of victims and debris had been removed or tampered with, the State Department said. He said Washington was also concerned over denial of "proper access" for international investigators and OSCE monitors.
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 am local time.