Rebels in eastern Ukraine took control Sunday of the bodies recovered from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and U.S. and European leaders demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin make sure rebels give international investigators full access to the crash site.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Ukraine’s separatists were to blame for the downing of the aircraft, adding there was “extraordinary circumstantial evidence” that showed Russia was almost certainly complicit in arming the rebels.
“There’s a stacking up of evidence here, which Russia needs to help account for. We are not drawing the final conclusion here. But there is a lot that points at the need for Russia to be responsible,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” television show.
The key question of who controlled the collection of evidence at the sprawling crash site in rebel-held territory dominated the day’s rapid-fire developments. International monitors say armed rebels have limited their access to the crash site and Ukrainian officials said armed rebels took the bodies away from their workers by force.
Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile Thursday at Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny shooting down the plane. All those onboard the flight — 283 passengers and 15 crew — were killed.
A wave of international outrage over how the bodies of the plane crash victims were being handled came amid fears that the armed rebels who control the crash site could be tampering with the evidence there.
Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Borodai said the bodies recovered from the crash site would remain in four refrigerated train cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.