Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Interpol team begins identifying victims of flight MH17 crash

International police agency Interpol said on Tuesday one of its teams had started identifying victims of the Malaysia Airlines MH 17 flight that crashed over Ukraine last week.

"The remains of victims recovered so far were labelled and numbered before being transported in refrigerated freight wagons from Donetsk to the designated centre of operations in Kharkiv where the Interpol Incident Response Team, along with other international disaster victim identification teams in place, will carry out preliminary examinations," the Lyon, France-based agency said in a statement.

"Members of INTERPOL’s Incident Response Team (IRT) in Kharkiv, Ukraine have started the disaster victim identification (DVI) process following the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17.

The remains of victims recovered so far were labelled and numbered before being transported in refrigerated freight wagons from Donetsk to the designated centre of operations in Kharkiv where the INTERPOL IRT, along with other international DVI teams in place, will carry out preliminary examinations.

The 10-strong IRT is currently comprised of three Dutch DVI specialists, one of whom is the IRT leader, four INTERPOL officials, a Brazilian forensics expert and current chair of the INTERPOL DVI Steering Group and representatives from Europol and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

Once the preliminary examinations are completed, is it expected that the victims will be transported to the Netherlands where the full DVI process will be carried out in accordance with INTERPOL standards.

The IRT is also liaising closely with a dedicated crisis cell within INTERPOL’s Command and Coordination Centre (CCC) at the General Secretariat headquarters to coordinate with other member countries with DVI expertise for further specialist deployment as required.

Offers of assistance to deploy additional DVI experts have currently been received from 13 INTERPOL member countries. Member countries which lost citizens in the MH 17 crash will also be requested to gather and send ante-mortem data to the CCC in order for the victims to be identified as quickly as possible in order for them to be returned to their families"

Russia said it was also ready to join ICAO-led international experts who are investigating the plane crash.

The remains, which were earlier moved out of territory held by pro-Russian rebels, are due to be flown from the city of Kharkiv to the Netherlands.

The head of the Dutch forensics team, Jain Tuinder, has revealed that the train which arrived in Kharkiv earlier on Tuesday contained 200 bodies - significantly less than that claimed by separatist leader Alexander Borodai.

Mr Tuinder said investigators would have to go back to the crash site to carry out another search.

"We will not leave until every remain has left this country so we will have to go on and bargain again with the people over there," he told journalists in Kharkiv on Tuesday evening.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe examining the wreckage found that major pieces of the plane had been cut into and that large parts now looked different.

Countries directly affected by the disaster, such as the Netherlands, Australia, and the UK, have been concerned that the crash site was not properly sealed off, with the risk that valuable evidence could be put at risk.

Earlier on Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain has agreed to a Dutch request for air accident investigators to retrieve data from the black boxes of the Malaysia Airlines plane that was downed over Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives.

The two boxes may shed light on Western claims that flight MH17 was shot down with a Russian surface-to-air missile fired from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"We've agreed Dutch request for air accident investigators at Farnborough to retrieve data from MH17 black boxes for international analysis," Cameron said on Twitter.

The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), based in Farnborough, southern England, is part of the Department for Transport and is responsible for the investigation of civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents.

Earlier on Tuesday, bodies of those killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash reached Ukrainian government-controlled territory.

As Western leaders increasingly pointed the finger of blame at pro-Russian separatists, and Moscow itself, over the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine, the government in Kuala Lumpur said little.

The reasons for that reticence - which had drawn criticism at home - became clear on Tuesday, when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced shortly after midnight that his government had negotiated the release of the remains of nearly 300 victims of Flight MH17 from separatist-held territory.

Najib, working through intermediaries to reach rebel leader Alexander Borodai, was a key figure in brokering the deal, according to two sources in Malaysia with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

Tuesday 22 July 2014




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MH17: Australian experts to join body identification team

An Australian expert about to join an international MH17 disaster victim identification team expects the task will resemble his work after the Black Saturday bushfires.

Forensic pathologist David Ranson left Melbourne for Amsterdam on Tuesday to join the international team in the grim task of identifying the 298 people killed in the MH17 disaster.

Professor Ranson, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) deputy director, has identified victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, the Bali bombing and the Kosovo war, and sees similarities between MH17 and the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

"I think the process is very similar to the work we did in the Victorian bushfires," he told AAP.

"I imagine that there will be a number of bodies - some of those will be intact and some will be non-intact, and we will be using similar methods."

Prof Ranson said he is unsure how the heavily-criticised handling of the crash zone by Russian-backed rebels will affect the identifications.

"I don't have exact knowledge of what has happened. I have seen the news reports like everyone else," he said.

"It's very important to ensure the proper collection of that material so that we do not lose items that are useful in the identification process, but I have no detailed information."

A mortuary technician and two odontologists (specialists in identifying victims from dental records) from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and a Victoria Police fingerprint expert will join Prof Ranson and the remainder of the Australian contingent.

He said the team will gather dental and pathology specimens, examine jewellery, personal effects and photograph tattoos and other marks, collect medical records and comparable DNA from the victims' home countries based on the MH17 passenger manifest and combine the lab and external records to make formal identifications.

The international forensic team will take care to manage the physical and psychological health of its members, he said.

"We are used to death and we are trained to deal with the families, deal with the medical practitioners, and the other people we gather information from," he said.

"Clearly with a situation like this, the stress will be escalated, so it's very important that staff are not over-stretched and that they are given time to rest so that the quality of their work and their health is not affected."

Overnight a refrigerated train carrying the remains of Australian and other victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight left a rebel-controlled town in eastern Ukraine bound for the country's second biggest city Kharkiv where it will be met by senior Australian officials.

The bodies are then to be flown almost immediately to the Netherlands where an international team, including forensic experts from Australia, will identify the dead.

Up to 39 Australian citizens and residents were among the nearly 300 people killed when MH17 was downed, likely by a missile fired by Russian-backed separatists.

A ceasefire has been declared within a 10km radius of the crash site. Ukraine's deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman said all 298 deceased passengers had been loaded onto the train bound for government-controlled Kharkiv.

Tuesday 22 July 2014



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Death toll from Typhoon Rammasun reaches 33 in China, at least 97 deaths in the Philippines

The death toll from Super Typhoon Rammasun has risen to at least 33 after seven more bodies were recovered, state-run media reported on Monday. The powerful storm made landfall in China on Friday after killing nearly 100 people in the Philippines.

Thirteen deaths were reported in south China's Hainan island province, nine in southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and eleven in neighboring Yunnan province. The death toll figures are based on tallies gathered from both central and local government agencies, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.

Rammasun, the strongest typhoon to hit south China in four decades, caused gales, downpours and floods in many provinces across southern China, affecting more than 8 million people in the provinces of Hainan, Guangdong, Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Additionally, Rammasun severely damaged power and water facilities, ports and roads, as well as telecommunication networks, hampering transportation and rescue work.

Early Monday morning, a mudslide triggered by the remnants of the typhoon hit a village in Yunnan province, killing at least 10 people and leaving 10 others missing. Teams from the provincial disaster relief bureau and civil affairs department have been sent to assess the damage and begin rescue work, Xinhua reported.

A total of 608,000 people have been displaced by the storm and over 240,000 are in urgent need of basic necessities, according to government figures.

Direct economic losses in Guangxi and Hainan are each estimated at more than 6 billion yuan (965.9 million U.S. dollars), according to Xinhua. However, despite zero deaths thus far, Guangdong has suffered the worst economic losses, with an estimated loss of more than 12.7 billion yuan (2 billion U.S. dollars), and 7,800 houses and 110,000 hectares (271,800 acres) of crops demolished.

Reflecting on the disaster, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang told authorities to make people's safety a top priority when fighting floods and droughts. As China enters its peak season for natural disasters, Wang said that efforts in flood control and drought relief should be increased, calling attention to inadequate flood control facilities in some places and weak links in emergency response.

Wang also said authorities should ensure that disaster control and relief measures are implemented efficiently, as well as forecasts and early warnings being improved, according to Xinhua. In response to losses caused by Rammasun, Wang said the central government will set aside funds for rescue and relief.

Rammasun made landfall in the Philippines on Tuesday afternoon and exited on Thursday, leaving at least 97 people dead, 460 injured and 6 missing, according to the latest report issued by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Monday. More than 330,000 people were affected in the country and, of that number, more than 97,000 people were displaced and served at evacuation centers.

After leaving the Philippines, Typhoon Rammasun headed for China, making landfall in northern Hainan Island early Friday morning. Next, the deadly typhoon headed for a final landfall near the northeastern border of Vietnam and China, where it dissipated over the Chinese province of Yunnan on Sunday.

Rammasun, which is known in the Philippines as Typhoon Glenda, was part of the 2014 Pacific typhoon season which runs throughout the year, with most tropical cyclones forming between May and November.

Tuesday 22 July 2014


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Italy rescues 1,800 migrants over weekend, five bodies recovered

Italy's navy said it rescued nearly 1,800 migrants in overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean over the weekend, and a merchant ship recovered five bodies from a sinking rubber raft off the coast of Libya.

Calmer summer seas have led to a surge in people trying to reach Italy from North Africa. Italy has picked up more than 70,000 migrants so far this year in its search-and-rescue mission, called "Mare Nostrum" or "Our Sea".

The number of dead is also rising. At the start of July, the UNHCR estimated 500 migrants had died in the Mediterranean in the past six months, compared to 700 during the whole of last year.

A merchant ship rescued 61 migrants and collected five bodies from a sinking rubber raft late on Sunday after its position was signaled by the navy, said the force. Survivors said 15 others probably drowned.

Italy is struggling to keep up with the increase in migrant boats this year and has asked the European Union for more help in rescuing and housing them.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said Maltese authorities on Saturday recovered the bodies of 29 people believed to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the hold of a boat.

On Friday, as many as 40 people went missing after a migrant boat capsized near the Libyan coast, according to media reports that the Italian navy could not confirm. A merchant ship recovered hundreds of survivors.

Most migrants have fled Syria's civil war and Eritrea's harsh military service, according to the UNHCR. Many of them set off for their journey to Europe from the coast of strife-torn Libya.

Italy's navy has been patrolling the waters between Africa and Sicily since October, when 366 people drowned after their boat capsized just a mile from the Italian coast.

Tuesday 22 July 2014


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Victims' bodies, plane debris could hold vital clues to who shot down airliner over Ukraine

"What exactly are they trying to hide?" President Barack Obama asked Monday as he demanded that Ukrainian rebels give investigators access to the wreckage of the downed jetliner.

The answer is: potentially a lot.

Aviation and defense experts say the victims' bodies could contain missile shrapnel. Chemical residue on the plane could confirm the type of weapon that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. And the location of the wreckage could yield information on how the attack unfolded.

The black boxes could offer vital clues as well. The cockpit voice recorder would record the bang of a missile. The data recorders, which register altitude and position, would be able to tie that information to the timing of a known missile launch in the area.

"You can effectively backtrack and give a relatively high degree of confidence in the location where that missile took off from," said a Manchester, England-based aviation industry consultant, Chris Yates. "If that location happens to be in rebel-held territory, which we all suspect it is, that would be the first point where you could point the finger of blame."

But while anguished families waited to take possession of their loved ones' remains, and investigators waited for the rebels to hand over the black boxes, independent observers warned that the pro-Moscow separatists had tampered with the debris and failed to secure the crash site. And the U.S. and its allies fumed that the rebels are trying to cover up evidence they shot down the plane.

Yates warned that the rebels may have already compromised the probe.

"What is gained, of course, is the possibility that whatever evidence remains of a missile strike can be obliterated," he said. "That's the bottom line, I suppose."

In this still mysterious tragedy, for example, the bodies themselves could offer precious clues. A missile from a Russian-made SA-11 mobile launcher, also known as a Buk, would explode outside the target aircraft, hurling shrapnel into the plane. Some bodies might bear the telltale wounds.

"While the stated reasons for removing some of the bodies to a refrigerated train — to protect them from wild animals and slow their decomposition — may be genuine, the bodies, too, are evidence," said Keir Giles, an expert on security at the Chatham House think tank.

Lyubov Kudryavets, a worker at the Torez morgue, told The Associated Press that last Thursday, after the plane went down over eastern Ukraine, a resident brought in the bloody body of a child, about 7 or 8 years old. On Saturday, she said, pro-Russian militiamen came to claim it.

"They began to question me: 'Where are the fragments of rocket? Where are the fragments from the plane?'" Kudryavets said. "But I didn't have any wreckage. ... I swear."

Rebel leader Alexander Borodai has denied he and his comrades-in-arms were trying to tamper with evidence, saying the bodies would be turned over to Malaysian experts.

As of Monday, the remains of 282 people had been reported recovered. A total of 298 people were killed in the downing of the Boeing wide-body jet; some bodies may have been all but obliterated.

A team of international observers suggested that some of the evidence may have been tampered with.

At the biggest site on Monday, "we did not see any perimeter security in the place," Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters in Donetsk. The monitors observed that one of the largest pieces of debris — apparently a large cone section — "had somewhat been split or moved apart."

On an earlier visit to one of the smaller impact sites, where the cockpit and beginning of the first-class section lay, the observers also witnessed apparent tampering.

"We observed workers there hacking into the fuselage with gas-powered equipment," Bociurkiw said.

The alternative explanation for the slow pace of examination and restricted access to the site is simply that a war is going on, said Michael Desch, an expert on international security at the University of Notre Dame.

"I think that what people are missing is that this tragedy has taken place in an active war zone — the Ukrainian Army is today operating against Donetsk — and given that, it is not surprising that the rebels are not being as cooperative as they might otherwise be," he said in an email.

Besides that, eastern Ukraine wasn't known as a model of organization even before the conflict began. The rebel groups that have seized control haven't installed civil institutions that could cordon off the site or organize the orderly removal of bodies.

Russia experts like Andrew Weiss at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington said that sheer incompetence, rather than criminal intent, cannot be ruled out as an explanation for the way the rebels are handling the disaster.

"There's just a lot of chaos on the ground," Weiss said. "Everything being messed up is part of daily life. It's not a highly ordered society the way Switzerland is. It's one thing to say it is part of a big conspiracy ... but it's not clear."

Whether by accident or design, the lack of swift access to the crash site may make it harder to determine who and what doomed the jet. And persistent doubts could benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin and undermine the push in the West to impose further sanctions against Moscow.

"It's really a mess," Weiss said. "The question is: Does that mess have some political benefits for Russia?"

Tuesday 22 July 2014


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