European security body negotiating to recover plane victims - Dutch PM

by Reuters
Sunday, 20 July 2014 19:35 GMT

(Adds details, context cleric quote)

By Thomas Escritt and Harro Ten Wolde

AMSTERDAM, July 20 (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe was negotiating with separatists to bring a train containing bodies from the Malaysia Airlines disaster under Ukrainian government control.

Pressure is growing on the government to recover the bodies of the 193 Dutch victims, who were killed when flight MH17 went down in territory held by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine four days ago.

Many of the corpses of the 298 people on board the flight from Amsterdam are still scattered across fields while others have been loaded by the rebels onto refrigerated wagons at a nearby railway station.

"All efforts are focused on getting this train onto territory controlled by Ukrainian authorities," Rutte told a news conference on Sunday. He said a team of victim identification specialists was likely to enter the crash site on Monday.

In a leading article, the daily De Telegraaf said the Netherlands should intervene militarily, if necessary, to secure the crash site and prevent separatists from destroying evidence.

"It is time for action," the newspaper wrote, arguing that NATO troops and special forces should be dispatched. Rutte ruled out invoking the collective security provisions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

At a memorial service in the Dutch city of Haarlem on Sunday, a cleric counted the dozens of dead from his diocese, and called for the bodies to be brought home as soon as possible.

"We must be persistent in asking for the bodies of the victims to be returned if only because of justice," Dean Jan Hendriks told mourners at a mass.

Rutte said the Netherlands had been entrusted by world leaders with the coordination of all victim identification efforts for the flight and would begin setting up an operating base in the regional capital Kharkhiv.

Alexander Hug, deputy head of the OSCE's mission in Ukraine said the European security body was in touch with a Dutch delegation that is now outside rebel-held territory but hoping to arrive in the regional capital Donetsk on Monday.

"We are planning to facilitate their visit, first to Donetsk and then to the crash site," he said. (Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in Kiev; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Erica Billingham)

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