Australia PM urges 'respect' for MH17 victims

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott demanded on Sunday that the bodies of those killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed be "treated with respect" and said he feared interference with evidence would continue.

Abbott joined a growing chorus of outrage from world leaders demanding Russia's full cooperation with what is becoming a monumentally challenging investigation into the downing of MH17 while bound from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people from a dozen countries on board.

His comments came as Australia circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding that pro-Russian separatists provide "full and unfettered access" to the crash site.

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Twenty-eight Australian nationals and nine residents were on the flight which is believed to have been shot down over Ukraine on Thursday, and Abbott said recovering the bodies was a priority.

He told Australia's Nine Network the crash site was being "absolutely trampled" with "bodies being put into bags and carted off to who knows where", amid reports OSCE observers had found corpses packed into a series of refrigerated train wagons miles from the site.

"We owe it to the families -- all the families -- to do everything in our power to respect the bodies, to find the truth and to ensure that justice is done," he said.

Abbott had earlier condemned the "absolutely chaotic" scenes of bodies rotting in the cornfields of the separatist eastern Ukraine region where the plane crashed.

"The kinds of things that would normally be happening in an air crash site are not happening," he told the ABC.

Abbott said several attempts to reach the wreckage, which is strewn across a large area, were hampered by the conflict.

Australia is pushing for a full and impartial investigation into the crash, but Abbott said a key difficulty was that there was "no-one in authority in charge on the ground".

The draft resolution being circulated by Australia -- that could be put to a vote as early as Monday -- calls on everyone in the region to fully cooperate in an international probe of the incident, according to a copy obtained by AFP.

Abbott said Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko had invited Australia to "fully participate" in the investigation, and to be part of the body recovery operation.

"My fear is that Russia will say the right thing, but that on the ground interference with the site, interference with investigators, interference with the dignified treatment of bodies will continue," he told ABC.

- 'An affront to dignity' -

The United States has condemned as "unacceptable" security at the site.

"The site is not secure, and there are multiple reports of bodies being removed, parts of the plane and other debris being hauled away, and potential evidence tampered with," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Saturday.

"This is unacceptable and an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve."

The State Department has said monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were only allowed 75 minutes at the site on Friday, and less than three hours on Saturday.

Abbott, who had branded the disaster a "crime" and slammed Russia's initial response as "deeply unsatisfactory", said Sunday he wanted to speak directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"If (Putin) wants to be a friend of decency and humanity, all assistance that he might be able to offer would be deeply appreciated," he added.

France, Britain and Germany warned Russia it could face further EU sanctions if it did not press pro-Kremlin separatists in Ukraine to allow unfettered access to the crash site of flight MH17.

"It is impossible for Russia to wash its hands of something which happened in what is effectively Russian-controlled territory, it seems at the hands of Russian-backed individuals, most likely with a Russian supplied or facilitated weapon," Abbott had told the ABC.

Abbott said the tragedy touched the nation deeply given that 37 onboard called Australia home. Services were held Sunday for those who died.

"We can't let our emotions cloud our judgement, but nevertheless these are wrenching times and there would hardly be an Australian who hasn't been emotionally touched by what we've seen, what we've felt over the last 48 hours or so," Abbott said.

by Madeleine COOREY © 2014 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Jul 20, 2014