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Ukraine says Russia helping destroy crash evidence

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine accused Russia on Saturday of assisting separatist rebels in destroying evidence at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane shot down with 298 people onboard.

A woman holds an anti-Putin placards during a rally to protest the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Sydney, Australia
A woman holds an anti-Putin placards during a rally to protest the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Sydney, Australia (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

The government in Kiev said militiamen have removed 38 bodies from the crash site and have taken them to the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It says the bodies were transported with the assistance of specialists with distinct Russian accents.

The rebels are also “seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia,” the Ukrainian government said in a statement.

Ukraine also called on Moscow to insist that the pro-Russia rebels grant international experts the ability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into the downing of the plane – a demand that President Barack Obama also issued Friday from Washington.

The plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with citizens from 13 nations was shot down Thursday afternoon in eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border in an area that has seen months of clashes between government troops and pro-Russia separatists.

An international delegation visited the crash site Friday evening but was only allowed to view one small portion. While the delegation was leaving under orders from armed rebel overseers, two Ukrainian members lingered to look at a fragment of the plane, prompting a militiaman to fire a warning shot in the air with his Kalashnikov.

Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, complained that what he termed “Russian proxies” in Ukraine had failed to give safe access to and tampered with evidence at the crash site.

Ukraine said it has passed along all information on developments relating to Thursday’s downing to its European and U.S. partners

Obama, disclosing that one American was among those killed, on Friday called the downing of the plane “a global tragedy.”

“An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies filled with citizens from many countries, so there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened,” he said.

At an emergency meeting Friday of the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner carrying 298 people, including 80 children, likely was downed by an SA-11 missile and “we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel.”

Both the White House and the Kremlin called for peace talks in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-speaking separatists who seek closer ties to Moscow. Heavy fighting was reported Friday less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the crash site, with an estimated 20 civilians reported killed.

(© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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