‘Security zone’ agreed around MH17 crash site

Ukraine's government accused pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine of trying to remove 38 bodies from scene of the crash site

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Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels have agreed to set up a security zone around the crash site of a Malaysian jet that was apparently shot down in the separatist east, Ukraine’s security service chief said on Saturday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Internationally mediated talks “concluded with an agreement to set up a 20-kilometre security zone so that Ukraine could fulfil the most important thing -- identify the bodies (and) hand them over to relatives,” Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, the Ukrainian Security Service head, said in televised interview.

Ukraine's government on Saturday had accused pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine of trying to remove 38 bodies from scene of the crash site.

Kiev accused the rebels of using Russian support to destroy evidence from the crash.

"The government of Ukraine officially states that the terrorists, with the help of Russia, are trying to destroy evidence of international crimes," the government said in a statement on Saturday.

"According to government data, the terrorists have taken 38 bodies to the morgue in (the eastern city of) Donetsk," it said, accusing specialists with "strong Russian accents" of threatening to carry out their own autopsies.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai is expected to reach the Ukraine capital of Kiev on Saturday to ensure an investigating team gets safe access to the site of the downed MH17, according to Reuters news agency.

The United States believes the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed.

“We will want to ensure a safe corridor to the site,” Liow told reporters. “... we sent a team to Kiev yesterday night. I will be leaving for Kiev tonight to ensure we have access to the site.”

Defence Minister and former Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, the public face of the government during the crisis over the missing MH370 airliner in March, said the main priority was to ensure security and that any debris was not tampered with.

“We want to get to the bottom of this,” he added, saying international cooperation was needed and that Malaysia had been in touch with officials in Russia, Ukraine, the United States, Britain and China.

“We do not have a position until the facts have been verified, whether the plane was really brought down, how it was brought down, who brought it down.”

[With AFP and Reuters]