NEW: Safety of international experts at the scene must be ensured, Vladimir Putin says
Ukrainian Cabinet says teams have found 251 bodies at the crash site so far
OSCE observers don't know whether black boxes were found, spokesman says
Rebel leader tells ABC: "We can and we want to give bodies to the relatives"
Are the same separatists accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 now looting, tampering with the evidence and stopping investigators from combing through the wreckage?
Three days after the passenger plane plunged to the ground, criticism over the handling of the crash site in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine showed no signs of slowing on Sunday.
Key questions remain unanswered: What will happen to the remains of the 298 people aboard the plane that crashed Thursday? Where are the black boxes? And is there any hope investigators will be able to determine who’s responsible?
Malaysia’s transportation minister said an international team was “effectively being prevented from entering the crash site,” adding in a statement that officials were concerned that “the sanctity of the crash site has been severely compromised.”
In an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, Secretary of State John Kerry described what he said were “drunken separatists piling the remains of people into trucks in an unceremonious fashion … interfering with the evidence in the location.”
He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that there is a “buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence” over the crash that Russia “needs to help account for.”
And British Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t mince words when he said who was to blame. In an op-ed in The Sunday Times, he called the plane crash and its aftermath “an outrage made in Moscow.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin fired back with a video statement posted on the Kremlin’s official website early Monday, arguing that his country has been pushing for peace in Ukraine.
“We have repeatedly called on all parties to immediately stop the bloodshed and to sit down at the negotiating table. We can confidently say that if June 28 fighting in eastern Ukraine did not resume, this tragedy most likely would not have happened,” he said. “However, no one should have the right to use this tragedy to achieve selfish political objectives. Such events should not divide but unite people.”
He stressed that safety must be guaranteed for international experts investigating the crash.
“We must do everything to ensure their work has full and absolute security (and) ensure necessary humanitarian corridors are provided,” Putin said.
At the crash site, there were concerns the bodies had been picked over by thieves.
“The facts of looting, how the terrorists are dealing with the bodies, are beyond the moral boundaries,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted.
The local head of the rebels rejected accusations that his forces shot down the plane, denied accusations that they removed the bodies and denied responsibility when asked about people reportedly using stolen bank-issued cards taken from the victims’ bodies.
“It is possible that some local residents could have searched the bodies of victims, found their cards and tried to use them. Unfortunately, I can’t exclude the possibility of this,” Alexander Borodai said Saturday.
Nearly 200 bodies kept in refrigerated train cars
The situation at the crash site showed some small signs of improvement on Sunday, with more control and more activity.
“Today was a better day for sure,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s monitoring team in Ukraine. “We were able to spend quite a bit of time out at the different crash sites.”
But it was still far from a well-organized investigation scene, and the area remained under the control of pro-Russia rebels.