Obama attacks Russia over crash site chaos

US President Barack Obama speaks to the press on Ukraine outside the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 21, 2014. Photo: AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad

TOREZ, Ukraine - Western powers on Monday ratcheted up the pressure on Russia over the Malaysian airline disaster, with US President Barack Obama insisting that Moscow force insurgents controlling east Ukraine to cooperate with an international probe into the crash.

Obama said the chaos at the crash site was an "insult" to families of the victims, as a train loaded with some 280 bodies was finally allowed to leave a rebel-held station four days after the Malaysia Airlines jet went down in the east Ukraine plains.

As the US levelled accusations against Russia for supplying the weapons allegedly used to shoot down the passenger jet and European leaders readied new sanctions, Moscow hit back and sought to shift the blame to Kiev.

On the ground, the animosity between Ukraine's warring sides was underlined by intense shelling which erupted in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, a city just 60 kilometres (about 40 miles) from the station where the bodies had been held in refrigerated wagons.

Five people were killed and 12 wounded, as Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said he was ordering his troops to hold fire within a 40-kilometre radius around the crash site, where forensic experts were heading.

Obama put the responsibility to set the situation straight squarely on Russia which has "direct influence over these separatists".

Russian President Vladimir Putin must prove "that he supports a full and fair investigation," Obama said, stressing "the burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full, and unimpeded access to the crash site."

Putin had appeared to adopt a conciliatory tone Sunday, saying Moscow would do "everything in its power" to resolve the three-month-old Ukrainian conflict.

But on Monday, Moscow moved to slap down US accusations that the missile system used to shoot down the aircraft was transferred from Russia to separatists.

A senior Russian defence ministry official insisted that "Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware".

Instead Moscow challenged Kiev, saying records show a Ukrainian military plane was flying just three to five kilometres from the Boeing 777 before it went down on Thursday, killing all 298 people on board.

"With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner?" asked Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko swiftly dismissed that claim, calling it an "irresponsible and false statement" by Russia.

Moscow's riposte came after Kiev released fresh recordings of what it says are intercepted conversations between rebels conspiring to hide the flight's black boxes from international monitors.

And the US embassy confirmed as authentic recordings released earlier by Kiev of an intercepted call between an insurgent commander and a Russian intelligence officer as they realised they had shot down a passenger jet.

The Washington Post said Ukraine's counterintelligence chief had photographs and other evidence that three Buk M-1 anti-aircraft missile systems moved from rebel-held territory into Russia less than 12 hours after the crash.

And Poroshenko said the rebels were wasting their time as "it is simply impossible to remove and destroy all the evidence because the shrapnel is dispersed in the area of 20 square kilometres".

Earlier at the Torez railway station, Dutch investigators wearing masks and headlights were finally allowed to examine the remains of over 200 recovered bodies.

As they opened each of the train wagons holding the remains, an overpowering stench filled the air.

"I think the storage of the bodies is (of) good quality," Peter Van Vliet, the forensic expert leading the Dutch team, as 50 armed insurgents looked on.

Patience was wearing thin over the limited access to the crash site in Grabove, where salvage workers were still combing the vast cornfields for remains of the victims.

Obama denounced the chaotic removal of bodies by rebels as "an insult to those who have lost loved ones" and Malaysia has also expressed concerns that "the sanctity of the crash site has been severely compromised".

"As anyone who has been watching the footage will know, this is still an absolutely shambolic situation," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

As grief turned to anger, the Dutch public prosecutor's office said it had opened a criminal probe into the downing of the plane, which had 193 Dutch on board.

The outrage was palpable in an open letter from Dutch national Hans de Borst, who lost his 17-year-old daughter Elsemiek.

"Thank you very much Mr Putin, separatist leaders or the Ukrainian government, for murdering my dear and only child," he wrote in the letter published by Dutch media.

"I hope that you're proud to have destroyed her young life and that you can look yourself in the mirror."

After meeting bereaved families of the victims, an emotional Dutch King Willem-Alexander said he shared national frustration over the fate of the bodies and that the disaster has left "a deep wound in our society".

The UN Security Council is expected to adopt an Australia-backed resolution demanding pro-Russian separatists grant unrestricted access to the crash site to international experts when it meets at 1900 GMT.

Canada announced new sanctions against Russia, as and European leaders have signalled they could do likewise as early as Tuesday -- barely a week after the last round of toughened embargoes.

Whole sectors of the economy including goods with possible military uses could be targeted, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

The separatists' violent bid to join Russia is the latest chapter in a prolonged crisis sparked by Kiev's desire for closer ties with the EU --a sentiment many in the Russian-speaking east do not share.

Sapa

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