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Tony Abbott and his counterpart, Najib Razak, say they need more evidence to build a criminal case against those responsible.
Australian Associated Press. Debris at the crash site of MH17 in Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Photograph: Xinhua/REX
Australia and Malaysia have signalled their intention to send investigators back to the MH17 crash site in war-torn eastern Ukraine before winter.
Prime minister Tony Abbott and his counterpart Najib Razak on Saturday agreed to intensify their efforts to recover any human remains still at the crash site and return them to their loved ones.
Australian investigators were forced to suspend their search in August as fighting around the crash site intensified.
It was envisioned they would return but a timeline was never set.
But there could be fresh urgency to get forensic experts back on the ground, with Najib declaring they’d need “at least a few weeks” to scour the vast impact zone for any remaining evidence.
“We intend to send our teams to the crash site as soon as possible,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur following a meeting with Abbott.
“We are very, very keen to re-enter the crash site, especially before winter sets in.”
Both leaders agreed that obtaining further evidence from the site would be crucial for building a criminal case to punish those responsible for the attack.
Australia has pointed the finger at Russia, accusing it of arming the separatists in eastern Ukraine suspected of downing the passenger plane.
Nearly 300 people, including 38 Australian citizens and residents, were killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July.
The first bodies of the Australian victims from the tragedy arrived back home earlier this week.
Abbott said it was likely there were still human remains at the crash site and the families of those who died deserved justice and closure.
“We want to be absolutely confident that everything has been done to ensure that no one is left untended and alone,” he said.
He also provided an update on the next phase of the Australian-led search for missing plane MH370, due to begin in a fortnight.
It’s been six months since the plane disappeared without a trace and exhaustive search efforts in the Indian Ocean have so far turned up nothing.
Earlier in the day he thanked Malaysian officials in person for their “courage and resilience” dealing with the twin disasters.
The two leaders also discussed the rise of terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, with Najib emphatically condemning Islamic extremism.
Abbott returns home on Sunday after a three-day trip to India and Malaysia.
Obama Transcript: New US, EU sanctions ‘going to have a greater impact on the Russian economy than we’ve seen so far’
US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Ukraine on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on July 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM © AFP
Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of U.S. President Barack Obama’s remarks on Ukraine on July 29.
U.S. President Barack Obama announces new sanctions against Russia on July 29.
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody.
In the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, and countries around the world, families are still in shock over the sudden and tragic loss of nearly 300 loved ones senselessly killed when their civilian airliner was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. These grieving families and their nations are our friends and our allies. And amid our prayers and our outrage, the United States continues to do everything in our power to help bring home their loved ones, support the international investigation, and make sure justice is done.
Since the shoot-down, however, Russia and its proxies in Ukraine have failed to cooperate with the investigation and to take the opportunity to pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine. These Russian-backed separatists have continued to interfere in the crash investigation and to tamper with the evidence. They have continued to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft in the region. And because of their actions, scores of Ukrainian civilians continue to die needlessly every day.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to support the separatists and encourage them, and train them, and arm them. Satellite images, along with information we’ve declassified in recent days, show that forces inside Russia have launched artillery strikes into Ukraine — another major violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. And we have information that Russia continues to build up its own forces near the Ukrainian border and that more Russian military equipment, including artillery, armored vehicles, and air defense equipment, has been transferred across the border to these separatists.
Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has worked to build a strong international coalition to support Ukraine, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its right to determine its own destiny, and to increase the pressure on Russia for actions that have undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and ability to make its own decisions. The core of that coalition is the United States and our European allies.
In recent days, I’ve continued to coordinate closely with our allies and our partners to ensure a unified response to the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and Russia’s continued arming of the separatists. And I’ve spoken several times with Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands and Prime Minister Abbott of Australia.
Yesterday, I had a chance to speak with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy. We are united in our view that the situation in Ukraine ought to be resolved diplomatically and that a sovereign, independent Ukraine is no threat to Russian interests. But we’ve also made it clear, as I have many times, that if Russia continues on its current path, the cost on Russia will continue to grow. And today is a reminder that the United States means what it says. And we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world.
Today, and building on the measures we announced two weeks ago, the United States is imposing new sanctions in key sectors of the Russian economy: energy, arms, and finance. We’re blocking the exports of specific goods and technologies to the Russian energy sector. We’re expanding our sanctions to more Russian banks and defense companies. And we’re formally suspending credit that encourages exports to Russia and financing for economic development projects in Russia.
At the same time, the European Union is joining us in imposing major sanctions on Russia — its most significant and wide-ranging sanctions to date. In the financial sector, the EU is cutting off certain financing to state-owned banks in Russia. In the energy sector, the EU will stop exporting specific goods and technologies to Russia, which will make it more difficult for Russia to develop its oil resources over the long term. In the defense sector, the EU is prohibiting new arms imports and exports and is halting the export of sensitive technology to Russia’s military users.
And because we’re closely coordinating our actions with Europe, the sanctions we’re announcing today will have an even bigger bite.
Now, Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the sanctions that we’ve already imposed have made a weak Russian economy even weaker. Foreign investors already are increasingly staying away. Even before our actions today, nearly $100 billion in capital was expected to flee Russia. Russia’s energy, financial, and defense sectors are feeling the pain. Projections for Russian economic growth are down to near zero. The major sanctions we’re announcing today will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, including the cronies and companies that are supporting Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine.
In other words, today, Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress. And it doesn’t have to come to this — it didn’t have to come to this. It does not have to be this way. This is a choice that Russia, and President Putin in particular, has made. There continues to be a better choice — the choice of de-escalation, the choice of joining the world in a diplomatic solution to this situation, a choice in which Russia recognizes that it can be a good neighbor and trading partner with Ukraine even as Ukraine is also developing ties with Europe and other parts of the world.
I’m going to continue to engage President Putin as well as President Poroshenko and our European partners in pursuit of such a diplomatic solution. But it is important for Russia to understand that, meanwhile, we will continue to support the people of Ukraine, who have elected a new President, who have deepened their ties with Europe and the United States, and that the path for a peaceful resolution to this crisis involves recognizing the sovereignty, the territorial integrity, and the independence of the Ukrainian people.
Today, the people of Ukraine I hope are seeing once again that the United States keeps its word. We’re going to continue to lead the international community in our support for the Ukrainian people, and for the peace, the security, and the freedom that they very richly deserve.
Thanks very much.
Q Is this a new Cold War, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: No, it’s not a new Cold War. What it is, is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.
And I think that if you listen to President Poroshenko, if you listen to the Ukrainian people, they’ve consistently said they seek good relations with Russia. What they can’t accept is Russia arming separatists who are carrying out terribly destructive activities inside of Ukraine, thereby undermining the ability of Ukraine to govern itself peacefully. That’s something that no country should have to accept.
And the sooner the Russians recognize that the best chance for them to have influence inside of Ukraine is by being good neighbors and maintaining trade and commerce, rather than trying to dictate what the Ukrainian people can aspire to, rendering Ukraine a vassal state to Russia — the sooner that President Putin and Russia recognizes that, the sooner we can resolve this crisis in ways that doesn’t result in the tragic loss of life that we’ve seen in eastern Ukraine.
Q. So far sanctions haven’t stopped Vladimir Putin. Are sanctions going to be enough? And are you considering lethal aid for Ukraine?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind, the issue at this point is not the Ukrainian capacity to outfight separatists. They are better armed than the separatists. The issue is how do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. We’re trying to avoid that. And the main tool that we have to influence Russian behavior at this point is the impact that it’s having on its economy.
The fact that we’ve seen Europeans who have real, legitimate economic concerns in severing certain ties with Russia stepping up the way they have today I think is an indication of both the waning patience that Europe has with nice words from President Putin that are not matched by actions, but also a recognition as a consequence of what happened with the Malaysian Airlines flight that it is hard to avoid the spillover of what’s happening in Ukraine impacting Europeans across the board.
And so we think that the combination of stronger U.S. and European sanctions is going to have a greater impact on the Russian economy than we’ve seen so far. Obviously, we can’t in the end make President Putin see more clearly. Ultimately that’s something that President Putin has to do by — on his own. But what we can do is make sure that we’ve increased the costs for actions that I think are not only destructive to Ukraine but ultimately are going to be destructive to Russia, as well.
All right. Guys, I’ve got to get going.
3:49 P.M. EDT
Remains of those killed not expected to be returned to Malaysia for some time as forensic testing in Netherlands continues.
in Kuala Lumpur
A Malaysia Airlines flight attendant in Kuala Lumpur lights a candle during a special multi-faith prayer for the MH17 crash victims. Photograph: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty
Families of the passengers and crew members on board missing flight MH370 have begun offering counselling to the relatives of those who died last week on downed flight MH17.
The remains of MH17 victims are not expected to arrive back in Malaysia for many more weeks. “No one deserves to go through what they’re going through,” said Jacquita Gonzalez, wife of MH370 in-flight supervisor Patrick Francis Gomez.
“Right now they [the MH17 bereaved] are like we were in the beginning: quiet and wanting their space. But we are here for them, we actually know what they’re going through, we know this is so painful, so hard.”
The offer came at a crucial time just one week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in the early hours of Friday 18 July in the Donetsk region on the Ukraine-Russia border, where it is believed pro-Russia separatists fired a surface-to-air missile at the aircraft, killing all 298 people on board.
Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak – who was lauded last week after negotiating directly with pro-Russia separatists for the return of the black boxes and the passengers’ remains – had previously stated that the Malaysian remains were expected by the end of Ramadan. But he confirmed last week that their return could take much longer owing to forensic testing in the Netherlands, where the remains of 282 passengers – including 43 Malaysians, among them 15 crew – arrived on Wednesday.
“There are technicalities and legal requirements that cannot be avoided,” he said. “It is highly unlikely for the remains to be brought back soon.”
Dutch experts have now begun the difficult process of verifying and identifying the remains using DNA samples collected from next-of-kin. A special Malaysian crisis team, as well as a group of psychologists, chemists, forensics experts and police, are currently in Kharkiv to help with the investigation, while six other hospital teams in Malaysia are awaiting the remains once they arrive back from Holland via C-130 military plane, local media reported.
Malaysia Airlines and Malaysia’s department of civil aviation are also working on removing all evidence from the crash site for further investigation – a complicated endeavour given that the site is on the frontline of a war zone.
“The bodies may have to remain in Holland longer for a post-mortem to determine the elements of criminality,” the health minister, Subramaniam Sathasivam told the New Straits Times.
“There is strong suspicion that the plane was shot down. There is a possibility that countries affected may want to seek justice for their citizens.”
He added that the amount of evidence required to build a criminal case would take time and potentially delay the eventual repatriation of the bodies.
The victims’ friends and families have been left saddened that they will not be able to receive the bodies as soon as they had hoped.
Dutch experts have now begun the difficult process of verifying and identifying the remains using DNA samples collected from next-of-kin.
Murphy Govind, the brother of MH17 stewardess Angeline Premila Rajandran, said: “It is sad that the bodies will not be home before [Eid, the end of the fasting period] but there’s nothing we can do. We can just hope for the best.
“As long as the Dutch people are doing their job identifying the bodies, we just hope that they can do it as soon as possible.”
The tragedy has added further pain to a nation reeling after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March, and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. For the family and friends of those on board MH370, the crash of MH17 is a stark reminder of how little closure there is for understanding what happened to the 239 people on board.
“I’m glad that MH17 is being settled and at least they have the remains coming back, they know where the plane is – now it’s about who’s at fault an who did that,” said Gonzalez, who met her husband when she was 12, married him at 22, and was grieving on his 51st birthday last Thursday.
“But we are still in limbo, we don’t know anything because we haven’t heard anything about MH370 … We also want closure, we want to know what happened.”
Instead of drawing the nation together, in some ways, the double tragedy has further amplified religious tension among Malaysians, who comprise Chinese, Indians and ethnic Malay Muslims.
It is often argued that Malay Muslims receive special benefits not available to other Malaysians, from government positions to scholarships.
A government announcement that “special arrangements” had been made for the remains of the 21 Muslim passengers on board MH17, with the Islamic religious and development departments providing logistics and a special burial site, was questioned over the lack of clarity on how the remaining Malaysian bodies would be handled.
“The fact that the Malaysian government is announcing special arrangements for only less than half of the total number of Malaysians killed in this tragedy seems a little awkward,” one news report noted.
Adding to controversy, an MP caused an uproar after by telling parliament alcohol and revealing uniforms should be banned from all Malaysian flights to avoid “Allah’s wrath”. “If smoking is prohibited on flights, what more alcohol? This must not be allowed on our flights,” said Siti Zailah Yusof, speaking in parliament earlier this week.
“Another thing the government should pay attention to is the dress code of female flight attendants, especially Muslim flight attendants.
“No one should die in sin … This must be taken into consideration: we cannot stop Allah’s wrath.”
Siti’s comments were met with derision and disbelief by citizens and NGOs alike, who called her comments “sexist, discriminatory and condescending”.
“Such a statement is insensitive and irrelevant, especially at a time when the grieving nation is still recovering,” said human rights NGO Empower in a statement. “The MP failed to understand that the victims died because MH17 was shot down by perpetrators who have still not been brought to justice.”
Kyiv Post Editor’s Note: Kyiv photographer and video journalist Zoya Shu shot this video, with English subtitles, outside the Netherlands Embassy in Kyiv, where hundreds have come to pay their respects daily to the 298 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17. Most of the victims were Dutch residents flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
People in Kyiv mourn the victims of the MH17 flight
“At once after the #MH17 tragedy people in Kyiv, Ukraine, started bringing flowers, toys and candles to the embassies of the Netherlands, Malaysia, United Kingdom and others, to express their condolences as they mourned the victims of the flight.
They keep coming evan now. People stand there in silence, pray, cry. And only kids violate the silence by asking about it, with the childlike directness. It was rather hard to make this video, it’s just plain sadness…Ukraine, always such a peaceful and calm place, has been in turmoil for months, there have already been so many victims of this artificially fomented conflict.
I can not comprehend why people do all that evil to other people. It does not look like it will stop any time soon, but that’s one of my biggest wishes right now.”
A train carrying remains of passengers from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 arrived Tuesday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Credit Olga Ivashchenko/Associated Press
KHARKIV, Ukraine — A train carrying the bodies of victims from the Malaysia Airlines jet downed by a missile last week arrived Tuesday morning in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv after a 17-hour journey out of lawless territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
Pushed by a diesel locomotive, five gray refrigerated wagons and a red passenger car crawled into the grounds of a decrepit Soviet-era tank factory shortly after noon, completing the first and most difficult stage of a long journey home for victims of the crash.
Ukrainian workers had to clear the track of mud and weeds to allow the train to pass along a long-disused stretch of rail leading to the Malyshev Factory, built to manufacture the Soviet T-34 tank and other military equipment.
The work on the tracks, however, did not prevent the train from stalling just a few yards from its final destination. Workers threw sand on the tracks to give the locomotive more traction.
The train was met by police forensic experts and other representatives of countries that had citizens on the doomed flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Security guards kept reporters outside the factory gates, and it was not immediately clear whether the bodies would be kept in Kharkiv for preliminary examination or swiftly transferred to a nearby airport for transport out of Ukraine.
Mohammed Saleh, a member of a Malaysian rescue team in Kharkiv to help handle the repatriation of bodies, said the bodies would “most probably” be flown to Amsterdam later on Tuesday. Malaysia lost 43 citizens on the doomed plane.
The Netherlands, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the 298 passengers and crew aboard the plane, has sent a Hercules transport plane to Kharkiv. Australia has also sent a plane.
Ukrainian officials said that the train contained nearly all of the bodies of those killed when a surface-to-air missile felled Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday. The remains had been held for days by pro-Russian separatists at the crash site.
Rebels released the train Monday evening, bringing to end a long standoff that had brought international condemnation on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the separatists whose cause he has supported.