HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Dutch forensic investigators told armed separatists guarding train cars full of bodies from the downed Malaysia Airlines jet on Monday that the train must be allowed to leave within hours.
The experts from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team — which specializes in victim recovery and identification — also pressed for rebels to seal the train cars parked in the rebel-held town of Torez.
AP journalists at the site said the smell of decay was overwhelming Monday and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to the faces on the warm summer day. A train engineer told The Associated Press that a power outage had hit the cars’ refrigeration system overnight and it was not immediately clear why. The cooling system was back up and running early Monday, he said.
The fumbling efforts to recover remains and secure evidence at the crash site have fanned international outrage. Four days after the jetliner was shot out of the sky, international investigators still have had only limited access to the crash site, hindered by pro-Russia fighters who control the verdant territory in eastern Ukraine.
Of the 298 victims killed, 192 were Dutch and another was Dutch-American.
The investigators led by Peter Van Vilet of the Dutch LTFO forensic office climbed aboard to inspect the wagons, surrounded by armed rebels standing nearby.
“We got the promise the train is going,” Van Vilet said, adding he did not know when.
The investigators stood for a moment with heads bowed and hands clasped before ascending the wagon.
Australia, meanwhile, pressed for a U.N. resolution calling for uninhibited access to the rebel-controlled crash site. It also asks for the full cooperation of all countries in the region, including Russia.
Emergency workers retrieved 21 more bodies Monday from the charred crash site and surrounding fields near the eastern village of Hrabove. Ukraine’s prime minister said 272 bodies have been recovered of the 298 people killed aboard the plane.
In the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv, another team of experts came to the government crisis center focused on the crash. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the team included 23 Dutch, two Germans, two from the United States, one from the United Kingdom, and three representatives from the Australian embassy.
The United States presented what it called “powerful” evidence Sunday that the rebels shot down the Boeing 777 with a Russian surface-to-air missile. That evidence included video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site; imagery showing the firing; phone calls claiming credit for the strike and phone recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.
“A buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence … it’s powerful here,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists,” he added.
The head of counterintelligence for Ukraine’s SBU security service, Vitaliy Najda, said Saturday the Buk launchers came from Russia and called on Russia to supply the names and ranks of the service personnel “who brought about the launch of the missile” so they could be questioned by investigators. He said the rebels could not have operated the sophisticated weapon without Russian help. Nayda did not provide specific evidence for his claim.
Yatsenyuk said Monday “it is crystal clear that any Russian drunken guerilla cannot manage this system.”
Fighting flared again Monday between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk. City authorities said battles were taking place near the town’s airport and warned residents to stay inside. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from the direction of the airport.
AP staff writer Laura Mills reported from Moscow and AP staff writer David McHugh contributed from Kiev.