ROZSYPNE, Ukraine: An international probe into the downing of flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine inched forward yesterday as experts risked attack to reach the site for the first time in nearly a week after Kiev announced a halt to its military offensive.
A small team of Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by international monitors accessed the vast site of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet after days of fierce fighting between government forces and rebels had stopped them reaching the area.
The Dutch justice ministry said the team was so far only a “reconnaissance” mission but would hopefully pave the way for more experts to visit soon.
In a sign of the continuing insecurity, an AFP team following some minutes behind the convoy heard loud blasts just a few kilometres away from the site and saw black smoke rising from a village close to where some of the plane wreckage is lying.
Ukraine’s military had earlier announced a “day of quiet” across the entire east after a plea from UN chief Ban Ki-moon to halt fighting around the crash site, where the remains of some of the 298 victims lie festering in the sun two weeks after the jet was shot down over rebel territory.
Kiev has continually blamed pro-Russian rebels controlling the site for blocking the probe and warned that insurgents were still shelling its troop positions across the region. The rebels responded that Ukraine had not stuck to its truce. On a visit to the Netherlands, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed for an “immediate cessation in and around the crash site by both Ukraine and separatist forces.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday’s site visit went well and gave a guarantee that experts would be able to work daily at the scene from Friday in a phone call with the Australian and Dutch prime ministers, calling on rebels to respect a 20-kilometre (12-mile) ceasefire zone around the debris.
The West says the insurgents likely shot down the plane with a missile on July 17, but Russia and the rebels said it could have been blown out of sky by a Ukrainian jet.