A Malaysian disaster response team including two air accident investigators was due in Kiev, after the country’s leader appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to help them gain access to the MH17 crash site.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters late on Friday that he had spoken to Putin by phone to stress the need for an objective, unfettered probe into the crash that killed 298 people, amid concerns the site was vulnerable to tampering.
“I also told Putin that the site should not be tampered (with) before the team begins its investigation,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysian national news agency Bernama.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 came down in cornfields in a separatist-held region, with the US claiming it was shot down in a missile attack, a possible casualty of Ukraine’s battle with pro-Russian rebels.
A 62-strong Malaysian team was expected to arrive in Kiev early on Saturday, a Malaysia Airlines source told AFP.
Malaysia’s Transport Ministry said on Friday that the team would include two accredited air crash investigators that have been invited by Ukraine to take part in the probe into who was responsible for the disaster.
Though the plane went down in rebel territory in Ukraine, responsibility for investigating the disaster lies with the Kiev government, under international conventions.
But concerns have emerged after international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe were able to gain partial access to one of the crash sites on Saturday, but were blocked from going further by armed rebels “for their own” safety.
International observers were to mount another attempt on Saturday to gain access to the crash site after being hindered by pro-Russian armed separatists “for their own” safety.
The monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who are not forensic experts, reached the crash site near the Ukraine-Russian border, but were denied full access to the debris field by the rebels who control the area, chairman Thomas Greminger said.
Members of Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Service had reached the scene, but rebels were complicating their recovery efforts, said Serhiy Taruta, Kiev-appointed governor of the Donetsk region.
US President Barack Obama has said evidence suggests the plane was downed by a missile fired from the rebel-held zone, and there are concerns over the site’s vulnerability.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, meanwhile, arrived in Kiev with a team of 15 investigators, the national ANP news agency reported. Nearly 200 Dutch nationals were on board the plane.
The Malaysian team also includes disaster response and rescue personnel, medical experts, and representatives of the Malaysian air force, Malaysia Airlines and the country’s Department of Civil Aviation.
The team would head to Kiev in hopes of eventually reaching the crash site.
“President Putin said he hoped the Ukraine president (Petro Poroshenko) would agree to a ceasefire to enable the entry of the investigation team into the site,” Najib was quoted as saying.
Kiev accused pro-Russian separatists battling Ukrainian forces of committing a “terrorist act” as stunned world leaders urged a full investigation into the disaster, which could further fan the flames of Russia’s confrontation with Ukraine.