Bangkok, Aug 22:
Malaysia Friday paid tributes to victims of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane which was shot down last month in eastern Ukraine, as the remains of 20 of the 43 countrymen on board were brought home.
The coffins of the first Malaysian victims identified in the Netherlands reached Kuala Lumpur airport, where soldiers took them out of the plane that flew them home and draped them in the national flag.
The ceremony, which was presided over by King Abdul Halim and Prime Minister Najib Razak, ended with a minute’s silence observed throughout the country once the coffins were placed in hearses.
The remains were taken to the hometowns of the victims for their burial, as the country observed a day of mourning in which the national flag was hoisted at half-mast and people were asked by authorities to wear black.
“We have done what we can in trying to include the people in paying their last respects, especially during the one minute of silence”, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
A thousand people, most of them staff of Malaysian Airlines, also gathered at the airport to receive the coffins, which included those of nine crew members.
“Malaysia Airlines is deeply saddened by this devastating tragedy. It has been a long and painful wait for the families and friends of the passengers and crew on board MH17,” the airlines said in a statement.
Flight MH17, which had left Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile July 17 when flying over eastern Ukraine, where fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels continues. All 298 people on board were killed.
This was the second tragedy to hit Malaysia Airlines this year, after the disappearance March 8 of its flight MH370, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
An international team next month will resume the search operation for the aircraft in the southern Indian Ocean, where experts believe it to have crashed after “deliberately” deviating from its original route.