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#Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash investigators : possible missile system parts found in eastern #Ukraine

By Tajuddin
Aug 11th, 2015
The crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July last year, near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine. Credit Dmitry Lovetsky,AP

The crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July last year, near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine. Credit Dmitry Lovetsky,AP

Moscow,Russia ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) — Prosecutors in the Netherlands revealed on Tuesday they have found what could be pieces of a Russian-made surface-to-air missile system in eastern Ukraine, in the area of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The announcement brings the methodical, slow-moving, prosecutorial investigation of the crash closer to the version that burst into the public eye nearly immediately last summer, blaming a surface-to-air missile.

It does not, though, assign blame to one or another of the sides in the Ukraine war, or to the Russians, who back separatist rebels.

The revelation is significant as the first from Dutch investigators to link physical evidence with a specific type of missile system, a Buk surface-to-air system.

If confirmed, their discovery could prove embarrassing for Russia, as it would rule out an air-to-air missile strike by a Ukrainian fighter jet as the cause of the disaster, which was the version promulgated by the Russian Defense Ministry soon after the crash.

Dutch investigators had said in the fall that damage to the fuselage was consistent with the impact of fast-moving or “high-energy” shrapnel from a missile, without elaborating what type.

The plane was flying from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, on July 17, 2014, when it broke up over rebel territory in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, most of them citizens of the Netherlands.

The investigators said the parts could help determine not only what brought down the jetliner, but who was responsible. But they also cautioned that it was too early to draw a direct “causal connection” between the discovery of the parts and the downing of the plane.

“These parts have been secured during a previous recovery-mission in eastern Ukraine and are in possession of the criminal investigation team and the Dutch Safety Board,” the investigators said in a statement. “The parts are of particular interest to the criminal investigation as they can possibly provide more information about who was involved in the crash of MH17.”

Accusations have swirled over who shot down the plane. In the West, the general explanation is that separatists fired a Russian-supplied Buk missile at the Boeing, mistaking it for a Ukrainian military airplane.

Russia has protested against the Dutch investigation, and on Monday it announced that sanitary officials would now inspect imports of Dutch tulips and other flowers to Russia more carefully.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, on Monday — a day before the latest revelation — called Western accounts of the plane’s downing speculative and, for lacking scientific evidence, no better than “augury with coffee grounds.”

Separatists had shot down a dozen or so military aircraft in the same airspace in the preceding weeks.

The rebels deny any role in the downing of the plane, and deny ever possessing a functioning Buk missile launcher that could reach the cruising altitude of a jetliner, although Associated Press reporters saw one such system rumbling down a road in rebel territory just a few hours before the Malaysia Airlines crash.

The Russian manufacturer of the Buk system, the Almaz-Antei consortium, said earlier this summer that Flight 17 was downed by an older version of the Buk missile that is in Ukraine’s arsenal, but not Russia’s.

The Dutch statement on Tuesday hinted that the possible missile system parts could point to one or another country’s arsenal in helping to assign blame, but provided no clues.

Wim Debruin, spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor’s office, said a Dutch-led investigative team retrieved the possible antiaircraft system parts in eastern Ukraine on one of several trips to the area. He declined to say whether Russian-backed separatists had been informed of the discovery at the time, or how the pieces were removed from rebel territory.

Investigators, he said, have narrowed their focus to specific individuals, or “people of interest” believed to have carried out or ordered the strike. It was too early, he said, to call these people suspects.

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