HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) – A refrigerated train bearing the bodies of many of the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines plane disaster pulled away Monday afternoon from a rebel-held town in eastern Ukraine.
An Associated Press reporter saw the train leave from Torez, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site, and overheard armed separatists saying it was heading for the rebel-held town of Ilovaysk.
There was no official confirmation of that destination from the rebels.
Earlier in the day, Dutch experts had called for a full forensic sweep of the Flight 17 crash site and told armed separatists guarding the rail cars that the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.
Four days after the Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky, international investigators still had only limited access to the crash site, hindered by the pro-Russia fighters who control the verdant territory. Pressure was growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin — who the U.S., Ukraine and others say has armed the Russian-speaking rebels — to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane.
Russia has denied backing the separatists.
There is great concern in the Netherlands about the bodies, since 192 of the plane’s 298 victims were Dutch and another was Dutch-American. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday that repatriating the bodies was his “No. 1 priority.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama demanded that international investigators get full access to the crash site and accused the separatists of removing evidence.
“What exactly are they trying to hide?” he asked, a day after the U.S. presented what it called “powerful” evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air Buk missile.
In farm fields near the eastern village of Hrabove, Peter Van Vilet, leader of the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team visiting Ukraine, said seeing the crash site was an emotional experience that gave him goose bumps despite the heat.
The team — which specializes in victim recovery and identification — observed some victims’ remains that had not yet been removed from the crash site and pressed the rebels to seal the refrigerated train cars.
The Dutch team also inspected the plane luggage gathered at the crash site and suggested it be put in a container and shipped out.
At the U.N. in New York, the Security Council will vote later Monday on an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the crash site and a cease-fire around the area. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country would view a Russian veto of the resolution “very badly,” adding that “no reasonable person” could object to its wording.
At the Torez train station, the Dutch investigators stood for a moment with their heads bowed and their hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect the train cars, surrounded by armed rebels.
AP journalists said the smell of decay was overwhelming at the Torez train station and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to their faces on the sunny, 84 degree Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) day. A Ukrainian train engineer told The Associated Press that a power outage had hit the rail cars’ refrigeration system for several hours overnight but the power was back up Monday.
The Ukrainian government is hoping it will go to the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv, where it has set up a crash crisis center, but the rebels have not confirmed any movement yet.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says the leader of the pro-Russian rebels has agreed to hand over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators who are in Ukraine.
Najib also said that the remains of 282 of the crash victims currently in Torez are being moved by train to Kharkiv in Ukraine, where they will be handed over to Dutch authorities. The remains will then be flown to Amsterdam.
Najib also said that as part of an agreement he reached with rebel leader Alexander Borodai Monday night, independent international investigators will be given “safe access” to the crash site.