Donetsk (Ukraine), July 19 :
The forces of the Kiev government and their militia foes continued to accuse each other Saturday of launching the missile that caused the death of 298 people aboard the Malaysian jetliner that crashed in eastern Ukraine.
“We can’t travel to Shakhtiorsk. As it get dark, cars are shot at. Besides, there have been new battles at the airport,” Eduard, a Donetsk taxi driver, told Efe news agency Friday, explaining his unwillingness to drive to the crash site.
This city is the hub of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, established by the mainly ethnic-Russian militias who oppose the government in Kiev.
The Donetsk militia fighters standing guard around the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 have given limited access to a team of observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
But the militia leaders have yet to agree with Kiev on terms for a ceasefire to facilitate an international investigation of the crash.
Here in Donetsk, people gathered on street corners to speculate about who shot down the jetliner.
“The rebels could not have shot it down. For what? It was a provocation by the (Ukrainian) security services,” says Vladimir, a supporter of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
Others suggest the militias might have fired at the Boeing 777 because they mistook it for a Ukrainian military transport aircraft.
“We are sick of the war. Many people have left. They couldn’t take any more,” a man out walking with his son told Efe.
As the fighting raged, emergency workers, with help from area coal miners, continued searching the plane wreckage for more bodies – 181 have been recovered so far – amid rain and ongoing confusion about whether any of the black boxes, or flight data recorders, had been found.
The downing of the airliner was an “act of international terrorism”, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Friday.
The Kiev government typically refers to the militias in eastern Ukraine as terrorists.
“Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine,” US President Barack Obama said.
“Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate ceasefire” to permit an international investigation, Obama told reporters at the White House.
Both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries have missiles capable of striking a plane flying at an altitude of 10,000 metres (nearly 33,000 feet) and reports indicate that at least one of the Ukrainian army’s missile batteries fell into the hands of the anti-Kiev forces.
While not accusing Kiev’s forces of firing the missile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the blame for the incident ultimately lies with the Ukrainian government.
“Without a doubt, the state over whose territory this occurred has the responsibility for this horrible tragedy,” he said late Thursday.
“The tragedy would not have taken place if there had been peace in that land, if military actions had not resumed in southeastern Ukraine,” Putin said, referring to Kiev’s recent decision to renew an offensive against the eastern militias.
The UN Security Council issued a statement Friday calling for “a full, thorough and independent international investigation” of the downing of the jetliner.
The probe should be conducted “in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines”, the council said, demanding “appropriate accountability” and “immediate access by investigators to the crash site”.