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Putin agrees to co-operate in MH17 operation

21 July 2014, 10:30

Sydney - Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to co-operate in the retrieval of bodies and investigation into the flight MH17 crash in a call with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday.

The two leaders spoke overnight in their first conversation since the plane, carrying 298 people, crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, apparently shot down by pro-Russian rebels with a surface-to-air missile.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, British counterpart David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande also piled pressure on Putin over the weekend in phone calls.

While Abbott would not divulge details of what was discussed, he said the onus was now on Moscow to act, using its influence with pro-Russian separatists to ensure experts can access the site of the crash.

"He did say all the right things and now he has to be as good as his word," he told Macquarie Radio.

"I am not going to have this conversation and say 'well, that's nice, President Putin said everything will work out fine' and just accept that.

"I am now going to try and ensure, as far as Australia humanely can, we insist upon these things happening."

Abbott has been particularly vocal among world leaders in his outrage at Russia's perceived lack of co-operation in the investigation into the disaster.

He has branded the plane's downing "a crime" and accused Moscow of trying to wash its hands of the tragedy, while failing to properly secure the crash site.

Moscow denies any involvement in the disaster.

Twenty-eight Australian nationals and nine residents were among the 298 people from a dozen countries on board who died.

'Bodies are not hostages'

Rutte talked with Putin on Sunday, with the Russian leader promising to help retrieve bodies and black boxes, a spokesperson for Dutch government press service RVD told AFP.

"Besides allowing unrestricted access to the crash site, the conversation focused on practical matters, namely the departure of the train that has many bodies and the handing over of the black boxes," the spokesperson said.

"On both points Putin promised his full co-operation."

The comments follow Australia on Sunday circulating a draft UN Security Council resolution - that could be put to a vote as early as Monday - demanding that pro-Russian separatists provide "full and unfettered access" to the crash site.

Abbott dispatched Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to the United States to lead the lobbying for support of the resolution.

She said the fact that the crash site had been contaminated and evidence removed was "an utter outrage".

"This is not a time to use bodies as hostages or pawns in a Ukrainian-Russian conflict," she told reporters in Washington.

"It is time for these bodies to be brought home and it's time for an investigation into who is responsible for this atrocity to begin."

Canberra wants a full and impartial investigation, but Abbott said a key difficulty was that there was "no-one in authority in charge on the ground".

He added that his priority was to do "the right thing" by the victims and their families by ensuring bodies were treated with respect, the crash site was secured and a thorough investigation undertaken.

"Then of course, we have to punish the guilty," he said. "We have to do our best to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

He said that while there had been some signs of improvement, including Ukrainian government officials gaining access to the site, the situation was still "shambolic".

"The site is being treated more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation," he said.

On Sunday, rebels in Ukraine loaded almost 200 bodies from the flight into refrigerated train wagons. A rebel chief said they were holding them until "the experts arrive".



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