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Downed MH17 triggers international political row


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A diplomatic and international political row is growing following the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Eastern Ukraine in an area controlled by Russian separatists. The aircraft, a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 code named MH17 with 298 people on board is believed to have crashed after being downed by a surface-to-air missile fired from the rebel-held area.

There were around 80 children on board the flight bound for Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. Malaysian airlines say that the plane was carrying 189 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons, as well as a number of other nationalities.

Whilst Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has taken a carefully drawn up diplomatic line, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was quick to describe the incident as a terrorist act, saying “Today terrorists killed three hundred people with one shot. Among them innocent children, people of many countries of the world”. The President continued “By today it is evident that militaries in the East of Ukraine cannot go on alone. Russia more and more often militarily intervenes against Ukraine. Our territory is being fired on from across the border. Our planes are being shot down. Russia supplies military personnel and state of the art weapons. The hybrid war is showing all signs of an external aggression”.

In a statement to the Australian Parliament, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said “So I can inform the House that as quickly as possible Australia will be working at the United Nations Security Council for a binding resolution calling for a full and impartial investigation with full access to the site, with full access to the debris, with full access to the black box and with full access to all individuals who might be in a position to shed light on this terrible event”.

Prime Minister Abbott continued “I can also inform the House that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will shortly summons the Russian Ambassador to seek a categoric assurance from the Ambassador that the Russian government will fully cooperate in this investigation. We owe it to the dead and their families, we owe it to the peace and stability of the wider world to establish the facts and we will do all we humanly can to bring that about. Let me conclude with this: the bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.”

The Russian Federation President, Vladimir Putin’s website does not carry a specific statement on the downing of the aircraft today. It does have short statements of two telephone calls to the Malaysian and Dutch Prime Ministers and under a transcript of a economic affairs meeting the President does start the meeting by saying “You know that a terrible tragedy occurred over Ukraine today: a passenger plane went down. According to the initial data, it was carrying 285 people. In the name of the Russian leadership and the Government of the Russian Federation, we express our condolences to all the victims’ families and the governments of the nations whose citizens were on that plane. Let us honour their memory.”

After a short moment of silence the meeting continued.

Below are statements from all of the major parties involved in the downing of the airliner as published on the respective government websites.

The statement by Prime Minister Najib Razak as published on the Prime Minister’s website:

“MALAYSIA VOWS TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH BEHIND MH17 TRAGEDY

SEPANG, July 18 (Bernama) 2014 – Malaysia vowed to find out precisely what caused Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 to crash in Ukraine although the Ukrainian authorities believed the commercial airplane was shot down.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said if the plane had indeed been shot down, Malaysia would insist that the perpetrators be swiftly brought to justice.

“No stone will be left unturned,” he told a media conference here at Sama-Sama Hotel today.

Sounding sober in the packed press conference, Najib said the aircraft’s flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The International Air Transportation Association had stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions, he said.

He said Malaysia Airlines had confirmed that the aircraft, which was ferrying 280 passengers and 15 crew, did not make a distress call.

“According to information provided by Kiev Air Traffic Control, the location of the plane’s emergency locator beacon was 48 degrees 7 minutes and 23 seconds North; and 38 degrees 31 minutes and 33 seconds East,” he said.

Najib said emergency operations centres had been established in relation to the tragedy, which he described as “terrible and deeply shocking”.

He said Malaysian officials had been in constant contact with their counterparts in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Najib said he had also spoken to the President of Ukraine and the leader had pledged that there would be a full, thorough and independent investigation where Malaysian officials would be invited to take part.

“The Ukrainian president also confirmed that his government will negotiate with rebels in the east of the country, in order to establish a humanitarian corridor to the crash site,” he said.

Najib also said he had had several conversations with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands and would also be speaking to a number of world leaders on the tragedy.

Najib revealed that he also received a call from US President Barack Obama and both agreed the investigation must not be hindered in anyway.

“An international team must have full access to the crash site and no one should interfere with the area, or move any debris, including the black box.” he said.

Najib said Malaysia Airlines was in the process of notifying the next-of-kin of the passengers and crew while all possible care would be provided.

He said Malaysia was dispatching a special flight to Kiev, carrying a Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team, as well as a medical team.

The Boeing 777-200 Malaysia Airline MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was scheduled to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 6.10 am, Malaysian time.”

The statement by President Petro Poroshenko as published on the Presidential website:

“Address of the President on the occasion of the crash of Malaysia Airlines aircraft

Today the war has overspilled from the territory of Ukraine.

Over the past months Ukraine was overwhelmed by the events caused by the aggressors and militaries in the East of the country. But the tragedy which took place in the Ukrainian skies today is horrendous.

Today terrorists killed three hundred people with one shot. Among them innocent children, people of many countries of the world.

Terrorists shot down a civilian Malaysian airlines aircraft, which was on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur at the altitude of 10 thousand meters.

I and all Ukrainians grieve for the hundreds of innocent passengers who sadly have become victims of an aggression against us.

We offer our compassion to the relatives of those passengers and crew who will not see their loved ones again. For weeks we have shed tears over our own dead. We have tears left for the innocent victims of this crime.

Today Ukraine mourns with you.

The State Security Service of Ukraine has intercepted a conversation in which one of the leaders of the mercenaries boasted about bringing down the plane in his reporting to his Russian supervisor, colonel of the General Intelligence Unit of Russia’s Armed Forces. Other terrorists have also boasted about their success.

In the past couple of days it is the third tragic incident, following two Ukrainian military planes which were shot down.

I have just spoken with President Barack Obama, with Prime Ministers of the Netherlands and Malaysia as countries whose large numbers of citizens lost their lives in this tragedy.

I have ordered the government of Ukraine to create an investigation commission. It will join efforts with the experts of the International Civil Aviation Organization and representatives from the Netherlands, Malaysia and the United States.

Every possible search and rescue will be made. We will do everything possible for the objective international investigation. It is very unfortunate that the terrorists have already declared their desire to hide the evidence and transport the aircraft’s black boxes to Moscow.

Today’s tragedy proves again that terrorism is not a local, but a global issue. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not only our problem, but a threat to the European and global security. Addressing this threat requires a unified global response.

By today it is evident that militaries in the East of Ukraine cannot go on alone. Russia more and more often militarily intervenes against Ukraine. Our territory is being fired on from across the border. Our planes are being shot down. Russia supplies military personnel and state of the art weapons. The hybrid war is showing all signs of an external aggression.

In the past couple of weeks, thanks to the courage and heroism of our soldiers, the territory, controlled by the terrorists, bandits and Russian mercenaries has decreased by more than half.

Each and every citizen of Ukraine is fighting for our independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Today, the whole world had seen the real face of the aggressor.

Shooting down a civilian aircraft is an act of international terrorism, targeted against the entire world.

This is a wake-up call for the whole world.

We expect for an adequate response from the international community.”

President Vladimir Putin’s Presidential website carries two short statements to say that he had spoken to the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and the Netherlands but the only direct reference to the downing of MH17 is as follows:

“Meeting on economy began with a moment of silence in honour of victims of plane crash over Ukrainian territory

July 18, 2014, 00:40 Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region

Meeting on economic issues began with a moment of silence in honour of victims of plane crash over Ukrainian territory.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Colleagues,

You know that a terrible tragedy occurred over Ukraine today: a passenger plane went down. According to the initial data, it was carrying 285 people.

In the name of the Russian leadership and the Government of the Russian Federation, we express our condolences to all the victims’ families and the governments of the nations whose citizens were on that plane. Let us honour their memory.

(Moment of silence.)

In this regard, I would like to note that this tragedy would not have occurred if there were peace in that country, or in any case, if hostilities had not resumed in southeast Ukraine. And certainly, the government over whose territory it occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy.

I gave corresponding instructions to military departments to provide all necessary assistance in investigating this crime. And I am also asking the Government of the Russian Federation to use our civilian departments as much as it can to do everything to thoroughly investigate this event. We will do everything – everything that we can, at least – to ensure that an objective understanding of what happened becomes available to the Russian public, to the public in Ukraine and throughout the world. These are absolutely unacceptable things and nobody has the right to pass them by without making corresponding conclusions and ensuring that we all have objective information about what happened.

But we have gathered today for a different purpose. I would like to talk to you about the socioeconomic situation in our country. We have many other current topics to discuss, so let’s begin.”

The statement by Prime Minister Mark Rutte as published on the Government website:

Rutte: ‘We want to get to the bottom of this tragedy’

News item | 18-07-2014

At 16:15 on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans issued a statement on the air disaster in Ukraine involving flight MH17. According to the prime minister, the government’s priority is to ‘achieve clarity by means of an independent investigation’. The foreign minister announced that he would be travelling to Ukraine this evening.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte:

Ladies and gentlemen,

The dramatic events that took place yesterday in Ukraine are now, a day later, assuming an increasingly tragic scale. Yesterday I spoke of 154 Dutch nationals who were known to have died. That number has now risen to at least 189. Today, we are starting to hear the stories of individual travellers: young people, entire families and a large group of scientists who boarded the flight yesterday with no inkling of the terrible fate that was in store for them. And more and more of my fellow countrymen are being shocked to learn, from friends or acquaintances, of the deaths of people they knew. That shows, once again, how closely we are all connected in this small country of ours.

The Netherlands was shocked by this tragic event, and our thoughts go out to the families and loved ones of the victims. Summer festivities are being toned down, and a constant stream of messages of sympathy are being posted on social media.

It would appear that flight MH17 was shot down, but the exact nature of the disaster has not yet been established. The government’s main priority, therefore, is to achieve clarity by means of an independent investigation. A team of investigators from the Dutch Safety Board will travel to the site of the crash. It is crucial that they are given unobstructed access to the disaster site and to the data contained in the flight recorders.

I have shared this appeal with many international colleagues. For instance with the Malaysian Prime Minister and the Ukrainian president yesterday, and, today, with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande and President Obama. I also communicated it in a phone call to President Putin just now. He, too, assured me that Russia is pressing for a full, international, independent investigation.

Let me make one thing clear. We want to get to the bottom of this tragedy. And if it becomes clear that the aircraft was attacked, I will personally make every effort to ensure that the perpetrators are found and punished. We will not rest until this is done. We owe that to the innocent victims and their next of kin.

A book of condolence has been opened here at the Ministry, and before doing anything else, I intend to sign it.”

The statement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as published on the Prime Minister’s website:

“PRIME MINISTER:

Today, our thoughts are with the families of the passengers on MH17 as they struggle to come to terms with their grief and with their loss. Yesterday, we saw the smouldering wreckage on our screens. Today, we’ve seen some of the faces of the dead. I don’t believe any Australian, any human being, could fail to be moved by what we’ve seen.

I have to say that as a nation, we need to prepare ourselves for difficult and painful weeks ahead as we strive to find out precisely what has happened and who was responsible. Right now, our priority does need to be gaining access to the site where MH17 came down. Right now, for all we know, because this site is controlled by Russian-backed rebels, right now for all we know, bodies remain strewn over the fields of the eastern Ukraine and armed rebels are trampling the site.

So, it is absolutely vital that an independent international investigation begin as soon as possible so that we can identify and recover the remains of all the Australians on board and we are working urgently with our international partners to that end.

Now, since my press conference yesterday evening, I’ve spoken with Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia, Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Poroshenko of Ukraine and this morning with President Obama of the United States. Minister Bishop has also been in close contact with her counterparts abroad.

I have to say that every one of the heads of government that I have spoken to is full of shock and indignation about what has taken place and every one of them is full of determination to ensure that we have a full and comprehensive and impartial investigation. Overnight, the United Nations Security Council met in emergency session to consider this matter and the Security Council issued a strong statement calling for a full, thorough and independent international investigation and for appropriate accountability. The Council stressed the need for all parties to grant immediate access by investigators to the crash site.

I regret to say that, overnight, a monitoring mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe did gain temporary access to the site, but it was driven off by gunfire, presumably from the Russian-backed rebels. This does highlight, though, the difficulty and the danger of this situation.

So, we are working with our partners at the Security Council to secure a UN-backed investigation. We do want a binding Security Council resolution for a full, independent, comprehensive international investigation that has access to the debris, to the site, to the black box and to anyone who might be able to shed light on these events and I can inform you that tonight Foreign Minister Bishop will leave for the United States to lead our campaign at the Security Council.

I can advise that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has already deployed six officers to Kiev. More are on their way, including a five member emergency response team. We also have AFP investigators on their way and we stand ready to deploy more as this situation develops. Contingency arrangements are in place to provide for the repatriation of bodies, although I must caution that this is likely to be weeks rather than days away.

During these difficult weeks ahead, the Government will do everything we can to support the bereaved families. I should say that I was grateful for the Leader of the Opposition’s support in the Parliament yesterday and we will be ensuring that Mr Shorten gets regular briefings on what’s happening.

I want to stress that Australia will do whatever we humanly can to ensure that this matter is absolutely thoroughly investigated to find out what we can and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Our objective is to ensure for the dead and for the living – dignity, respect and justice.”

The statement by President Barack Obama as published on the White House website:

“President Obama Speaks on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, Russia and Ukraine, and the Situation in Gaza

July 18, 2014
01:58 PM EDT

Today, President Obama delivered a statement to the press in the wake of the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 yesterday:

Yesterday, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 took off from Amsterdam and was shot down over Ukraine near the Russian border. Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken — men, women, children, infants — who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine. Their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions.

We know at least one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was killed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family for this terrible loss.

Yesterday, I spoke with the leaders of Ukraine, Malaysia, and the Netherlands. I told them that our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and that the American people stand with them during this difficult time. Later today, I’ll be speaking to Prime Minister Abbott of Australia, which also suffered a terrible loss.

By far, the country that lost the most people on board the plane was the Netherlands. From the days of our founding, the Dutch have been close friends and stalwart allies of the United States of America. And today, I want the Dutch people to know that we stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in our grief and in our absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened.

The President went on to detail what we know about the plane crash so far:

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. We also know that this is not the first time a plane has been shot down in eastern Ukraine. Over the last several weeks, Russian-backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet. Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia. This includes arms and training. It includes heavy weapons, and it includes anti-aircraft weapons.

President Obama noted that this was “a global tragedy — an Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies, filled with citizens from many countries.” And as a result, there now needs to be a credible, international investigation into exactly what happened.

“The U.N. Security Council has endorsed this investigation,” the President said, “and we will hold all its members – including Russia – to their word.” He then made clear that Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine need to “adhere to an immediate cease-fire” in order to facilitate the investigation.

“Evidence must not be tampered with,” he said. “Investigators need to access the crash site. And the solemn task of returning those who were lost on board the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.”

The U.S. is ready to provide any necessary assistance to the investigation and has already offered the support of the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and personnel from these two agencies are already on their way to assist in the investigation. President Obama said that he will “continue to be in close contact with leaders from around the world” as the U.S. responds to this catastrophe.

He emphasized that the immediate focus is on “recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.” But more broadly, he made clear that peace and security must be restored in Ukraine:

For months, we’ve supported a pathway to peace, and the Ukrainian government has reached out to all Ukrainians, put forward a peace plan, and lived up to a cease-fire, despite repeated violations by the separatists — violations that took the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and personnel.

Moreover, time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to deescalate the situation. I spoke to President Putin yesterday in the wake of additional sanctions that we had imposed. He said he wasn’t happy with them, and I told him that we have been very clear from the outset that we want Russia to take the path that would result in peace in Ukraine, but so far at least, Russia has failed to take that path. Instead, it has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists. It has also failed to use its influence to press the separatists to abide by a cease-fire. That’s why, together with our allies, we’ve imposed growing costs on Russia.

So now is, I think, a sombre and appropriate time for all of us to step back and take a hard look at what has happened. Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences. Russia, these separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting. Meanwhile, the United States is going to continue to lead efforts within the world community to de-escalate the situation; to stand up for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine; and to support the people of Ukraine as they courageously work to strengthen their democracy and make their own decisions about how they should move forward.”

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