Gunmen said to chase investigators from MH17 crash site

KIEV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, July 24 Thu Jul 24, 2014 11:31pm IST

KIEV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, July 24 (Reuters) - Gunmen chased investigators from the site where the Malaysian airliner crashed and "lunatics" were still making life difficult for those who wanted to find out what downed flight MH17, officials said on Thursday.

As foreign ministers from Australia and the Netherlands met Ukrainian officials to coordinate the investigation, the head of Ukraine's Emergency Situations Service and the chief of a Dutch police mission said their work at the site was being hampered.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, however, said there had been no incidents, and that they had been joined by experts from Malaysia and Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the crash.

The West has called for a thorough investigation into the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine to get justice for the 298 people who were killed, but have voiced concern that the rebels were preventing investigators from doing their job.

"They took away our tents, the ones which were at our base camp," Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of the emergencies service, told a news conference in the eastern city of Kharkiv from where the remains of the victims are starting their journey home.

"We were allowed only our equipment and machinery and we were chased away at gunpoint."

He did not say when this happened.

The head of the Dutch police mission in Ukraine also said it was difficult to get access to the site to look for more of the remains of the victims, many of whom were Dutch.

"But the process is not over, there are still remains in your country and it's very hard to get there because there are some, and I would say it's not politically correct, but there are still some lunatics there," Jan Tuinder said.

"It's very hard for us to get to the remains."

Asked about the incidents, Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCW spokesman, said: "None whatsoever."

The Netherlands formally took over the investigation into the crash from Ukraine on Thursday after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the downing of the plane and demanding armed groups allow "safe, secure, full and unrestricted access" to the crash site.

In Kiev, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she expected the separatists to allow a better international presence at the site.

"Now that the legal framework is in place ... and that Ukraine has transferred legal responsibility to the Netherlands, we feel we'll get more progress from the separatists," she said.

Putting the Dutch in charge of the criminal investigation was a way to get around the opposition to the U.N. Security Council resolution voiced by Russia should Kiev lead the probe, Bishop said. (Additional reporting by Alexander Vasovic in Donetsk; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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