KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine accused Russia on Saturday of assisting separatist rebels in destroying evidence at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane shot down with 298 people aboard.
The government in Kiev said militiamen have removed 38 bodies from the crash site and have taken them to the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It says the bodies were transported with the assistance of specialists with distinct Russian accents.
The rebels are also "seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia," the Ukrainian government said in a statement.
But on Saturday, a rebel leader countered with an appeal to Russia for help with worsening conditions at the crash site and with accusations that the Ukrainian government of preventing experts from arriving and allowing bodies to go uncollected.
Ukraine had called on Moscow to insist that the pro-Russia rebels grant international experts the ability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into the downing of the plane — a demand that President Barack Obama also issued Friday from Washington.
The plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with citizens from 13 nations was shot down Thursday afternoon in eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border in an area that has seen months of clashes between government troops and pro-Russia separatists.
An international delegation visited the crash site Friday evening but was only allowed to view one small portion. While the delegation was leaving under orders from armed rebel overseers, two Ukrainian members lingered to look at a fragment of the plane, prompting a militiaman to fire a warning shot in the air with his Kalashnikov.
Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, complained that what he termed "Russian proxies" in Ukraine had failed to give safe access to and tampered with evidence at the crash site.
Ukraine said it has passed along all information on developments relating to Thursday's downing to its European and U.S. partners.
On Saturday, Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, said rebels had not touched the site where the plane crashed, but were worried by the state of bodies spread over a large area.
"There's a grandmother. A body landed right in her bed. She says 'please take this body away'. But we cannot tamper with the site," he told a news conference.
"Bodies of innocent people are lying out in the heat. We reserve the right, if the delay continues . . . to begin the process of taking away the bodies. We ask the Russian Federation to help us with this problem and send their experts," he said.
He blamed the authorities in the Ukrainian capital Kiev for preventing experts from getting to the site. Earlier on Saturday, Malaysian experts arrived in Kiev to help Ukrainian specialists at the site.
Workers from Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry have been working in the fields where the plane crashed. Borodai said the OSCE, a security watchdog, was there to monitor the work of the experts, so for the time being had little to do until those specialists arrived.
"Maybe this is because Ukraine or the Ukrainian authorities are not interested in an objective investigation," he said.
As dozens of victims' bodies lay in bags by the side of the road baking in the summer heat, international monitors at the crash site Saturday said they were still being hampered by heavily armed rebels.
"Some of the body bags are open and the damage to the corpses is very, very bad. It is very difficult to look at," OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told reporters in a phone call from the site, where the smell of decaying bodies was unmistakable.
He said the 24-member delegation was given further access Saturday to the crash site but their movements were being limited by the rebels. The site sprawls eight square miles across sunflower and wheat fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine.
"We have to be very careful with our movements because of all the security," Bociurkiw said. "We are unarmed civilians, so we are not in a position to argue with people with heavy arms."
At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday, the U.S. pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner likely was downed by an SA-11 missile and "we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel."
In the Netherlands, forensic teams fanned out across the country Saturday to collect material including DNA samples that will help positively identify the remains of the 192 Dutch victims.
Police said in a tweet that 40 pairs of detectives from the National Forensic Investigations Team would be visiting victims' relatives over the coming days.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said on Saturday the Netherlands was "angry, furious" by news that bodies were being dragged around the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed in eastern Ukraine.
At a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Timmermans said: "We are already shocked by the news we got today of bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly . . . People are angry, furious."
He told Poroshenko the Netherlands wanted to know who was responsible for shooting down the airliner. "Once we have the proof, we will not stop before the people are brought to justice. Not just the people who pulled the trigger but also those who made it possible. I think the international community needs to step up its efforts in this respect."
Investigators also are keen to establish the whereabouts of the plane's black box flight recorders, but Borodai, just as several other officials have done, said he did not know where they were.
"The black boxes have not been found and we are not touching the site," he said.
Aviation experts say, however, not to expect too much from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders in understanding how Flight 17 was brought down.
The most useful evidence that's likely to come from the crash scene is whether missile pieces can be found in the trail of debris that came down as the plane exploded, said John Goglia, a U.S. aviation safety expert and former National Transportation Safety Board member.
Both the White House and the Kremlin called for peace talks in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-speaking separatists who seek closer ties to Moscow. Heavy fighting was reported Friday less than 60 miles from the crash site, with an estimated 20 civilians reported killed.
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