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UN calls for probe of plane downed over Ukraine

Created: 07/21/2014 4:52 PM
By: ALEXANDRA OLSON

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday demanding international access to the site of the plane downed over eastern Ukraine and an end to military activities around the area, following intense pressure on a reluctant Russia to support the measure.

The resolution calls for a "full, thorough and independent international investigation" into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 carrying 298 people in Hrabove. It calls for pro-Russia separatists to allow access to the site of the crash. And it demands that armed groups who control the crash site do not disturb debris, belongings or victims' remains.

All 15 council members voted in favor of the Australia-proposed measure, which was co-sponsored by nine other countries that lost citizens in the crash.

The foreign ministers of Australia and the Netherlands, along with the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats, challenged Russia to use its influence with the rebels to comply with the resolution.

"I hope that Russia will now feel its responsibility, act on its responsibility. If it doesn't, it's going to have an increasingly isolated position in the international world," said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, who traveled to New York for the Security Council meeting.

The vote came after a weekend of negotiations to overcome Russian objections to the text, including a phone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot.

Russia had pushed for the resolution to state that the International Civil Aviation Organization — rather than Ukrainian authorities — take the lead in the investigation. The final resolution fell short of that demand, but in an effort to assuage veto-wielding Russia, it included wording changes that played up the participation of the ICAO, a U.N. agency.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was satisfied that the ICAO would have a prominent role in the investigation, and welcomed the announcement that the Netherlands would also take a lead role.

"We could not simply allow the Security Council to endorse a Ukrainian-led investigation because we have no trust in their intention to conduct a truly objective investigation," Churkin told reporters after the vote.

In her speech to the council, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power rebuked Russia, saying a Security Council resolution would not have been necessary had Russia pushed the rebels from the start to allow unimpeded access to the site.

"Russia's silence since Thursday sent a message to the illegal armed groups it supports: We have your backs," Power said. "We are not naïve: if Russia is not part of the solution, it will continue to be part of the problem."

Churkin shot back at Power during his speech, saying "there is no need to turn the discussion of a tragedy into a farce."

Addressing the council, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the resolution is an "unambiguous response from the international community to an utterly deplorable act." Later, she also accused Russia of not doing enough to help secure the crash site for investigators.

"Russia had influence over the separatists. And Russia could have enforced an appropriate crash site and created the conditions for this investigation to be carried out immediately," Bishop told reporters.

Australia lost 37 citizens and residents in the crash, while the Netherlands lost 193.

The United States has presented what it called "powerful" evidence that Ukraine's rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile and training. Other governments have stopped short of accusing Russia of actually causing the crash.

Russian officials have blamed Ukraine's government for creating the situation and atmosphere in which the plane was downed.

Churkin dismissed the criticism that Russia had allowed rebels to tamper with the crash site as part of a larger "effort to discredit the protest movement in the east" of Ukraine.

Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev also addressed the council, welcoming the resolution and calling for the rebel groups to be recognized by the world as terrorist organizations.

"Russian citizens are among the leadership of the terrorist groups," he said, calling on Russia to withdraw forces from the Ukraine border and "stop threatening peace and security in our country, the region and the world."

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Associated Press writers Ron DePasquale in New York and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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