Flight MH17: identification begins after bodies from crash site arrive in Kharkiv

Interpol says it has begun preliminary work on remains, which are to be flown to the Netherlands this week

International experts have begun the process of identifying the bodies of those who died in last Thursday's Malaysian Airlines plane crash, after a train carrying their remains arrived in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.

Interpol, the international police agency, said one of its teams had begun preliminary identification work on the remains, which will all be flown to the Netherlands this week for fuller identification.

The train, which included three refrigerated wagons, had been loaded by rebels and local emergency workers at Torez station, near the crash site. The rebels said there were 282 bodies and 87 "other fragments" on board and that 16 bodies are yet to be found.

However, on Tuesday night Dutch officials said only 200 bodies had arrived in Kharkiv.

The train came to a halt in the grounds of a weapons factory shortly before midday on Tuesday/yesterday. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said he expected the first of the bodies to arrive in Eindhoven on Wednesday. He said that the identification of some bodies would be quick but warned grieving families of victims that the identification of some could take "weeks or even months".

Ukraine has given the Netherlands the lead role in investigating the cause of the crash. More than half of the 298 victims were Dutch citizens.

Two black boxes from flight MH17 handed to Malaysian officials by rebels on Monday night will be examined by UK accident investigators, it was announced yesterday.

British experts at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) will retrieve data from the flight recorders for analysis, following a request from the government of the Netherlands, David Cameron said on Twitter.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport, of which the AAIB has been a part since 2002, said: "They're confident that, depending on the level of damage, they will be able to retrieve the information within 24 hours …"

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been on the scene since the suspected shooting down of Flight MH17 but are there only to observe rather than to investigate. On Tuesday they were joined by a three-man Malaysian delegation, one from Malaysian Airlines and two from the country's civil aviation authority.

The crash site has still not been cordoned off, and journalists and locals were free to roam the debris on the fifth day since the crash. OSCE spokesperson Michael Bociurkiw said that his team found more body parts at the site during the day. "Today at the side of the road there were human remains in a small plastic bag that had not been picked up," he said.

In response to accusations that the rebels had been trying to cover up evidence at the site, Bociurkiw said that while there was a "marked change" in parts of the crash site, there was no evidence of major tampering. The OSCE has taken thousands of photographs of the site in the past few days and will hand them over to investigators.

"Two days ago as we left the site we saw men with power saws hacking into the part of the fuselage where the cockpit is … but that could have been part of the effort to recover human remains."

Bociurkiw said the Malaysians were happy with the access they had been given and said they "have not seen any evidence of major parts [of the plane] missing".

Western governments have criticised the lack of access to the site for investigators, and on Tuesday the White House demanded that international investigators be given "immediate and full access", with spokesman Josh Earnest saying there was not enough cooperation. The rebels, however, dispute this, saying any international experts are welcome at the site, but few have arrived due to security fears.

A spokesperson for the Dutch foreign ministry said the few Dutch experts who briefly visited the crash site on Monday had left due to security concerns, but that a delegation will go back to the site as soon as possible.

Fierce fighting has continued to flare across eastern Ukraine. On Monday, as what are believed to be the final 20 bodies were transported from the crash site to the train station in Torez, Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, ordered a ceasefire within a 40km (24 mile) radius around the area. However, the boom of artillery was again audible at the crash site on Tuesday.

Fighting around Donetsk airport and railway station on Monday, just outside the ceasefire zone, reportedly killed three civilians and further complicated transportation arrangements, according to the rebels.

Details of the negotiations between Malaysia and the separatist authorities in Donetsk that led to a handover of the black box flight recorders in the early hours of Tuesday morning also began to emerge during the day.

Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, negotiated with a Malaysian delegation into the early hours of Tuesday morning. The result appeared to be a deal that secured the safe passage of the MH17 victims' bodies out of the rebel-held territory, the handover of the black boxes, and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators. But in return the Malaysians seemed to offer the rebels a semblance of legitimacy.

Col Mohamad Sakri, part of the Malaysian delegation, thanked "his excellency Mr Borodai" for agreeing to the transfer.

The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, on Tuesday said "there were risks involved" in making the deal with the separatists, for which he had spoken by telephone to Borodai. "We felt an obligation to explore all avenues to break the impasse, and secure the return of the remains and the black boxes. After meeting the families, I felt that we owed it to them to act," he said in a statement.

Razak said the recorders would be held in Malaysian custody while an international investigation team was formalised. It later emerged that the Malaysians planned to hand the boxes to the Dutch, who will send them to Britain for expert analysis. The Ukrainians have released recordings that they say show separatists scrambling to find the black boxes and hand them to Moscow, which the rebels have said are faked. Razak confirmed that the boxes appeared to be in good condition.

Additional reporting: Kate Hodal in Kuala Lumpur, Philip Olterman in Amsterdam


Shaun Walker and Harriet Salem in Donetsk

The GuardianTramp

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