International Outrage Grows Over Treatment Of Ukraine Crash Site

NPR's Arun Rath gets the latest from correspondent Corey Flintoff at the site of last week's downing of a Malaysian jetliner in Eastern Ukraine.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath in for Rachel Martin. Ukrainian officials report this morning that separatist rebels have removed bodies from the site where a Malaysian airliner was shot down on Thursday. International outrage has been mounting over the spectacle of bodies decomposing in the summer heat. NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line from the site. Hi, Corey.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Hi, Arun.

RATH: Corey, can you describe what you're seeing?

FLINTOFF: Arun, I'm right at the edge of one of the major crash sites. It's an area of about probably a quarter of an acre where the two engines came down. It's a farmer's field, and there's just a tremendous burnt area around here and a great deal of burnt wreckage as well. We've been watching rescue workers comb through debris here looking for body parts. So far, I see about a dozen black body bags lined up along the road and a number of smaller plastic bags where they told us that they've been collecting body fragments. It's clear it's going to be very hard to identify these remains.

RATH: We've also been hearing that rebels have been moving bodies.

FLINTOFF: We've heard that as well, although we have not seen evidence of it. We were told last night - the OSCE observers had a press conference and...

RATH: And the OSCE is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

FLINTOFF: That's right. There were questions actually about if some of the bodies had been removed, and if so, where they were. There may be some bodies now at the morgue. And that's - we're going to visit that next to see if that is in fact the case. One of the things that the rebels have said is that there's a lack of refrigeration in the city, adequate places where they can store these bodies until the investigators get here. So the bodies obviously are in a pretty serious state of deterioration by the time the experts and investigators get here.

RATH: Corey, who are these people who are doing the recovery now?

FLINTOFF: Well, the people that are doing the recovery are ordinary paramedics and emergency workers from Donetsk. I see about eight guys working here. Basically what they're doing is just scooping up remains and putting them into bags. So far there haven't been any real air traffic investigators here. And that's something that's due to come soon. We talked to people from the OSCE observer delegation, and they made it clear that they're not here to investigate. They're only here to observe how the sites are being treated. They say that there are investigators from Malaysia and the Netherlands in Kiev. And it's not clear that there are any of them here in Donetsk yet or whether they've been able to start their work.

We just saw a group of OSCE observers here at this site. We aren't allowed to interview them or talk to them while they're doing their work. I did hear one of the leaders say that their access has been quite good. They've been complaining over the last two days that they've been restricted from visiting some areas.

RATH: Well, also today, Ukrainian officials accused the rebels of removing evidence. Have you seen any sign of that or can you confirm that?

FLINTOFF: We have in fact. The OSCE people told us that it was their impression yesterday that they had seen - wreckage that had been there the day before had apparently been removed. And, in fact, I talked to an observer here who said the same thing. He believed that a substantial piece of wreckage had been removed from a site just down the road from where we are right now. What exactly is happening with that wreckage, we're not sure.

Reporters, over the last couple of days, have heard from rebels here that the rebels wanted to send some of this wreckage to Moscow to have it investigated. But it hasn't been confirmed where any of this wreckage may have been sent or whether there's an intention to send it anywhere.

RATH: And finally, because, you know, this is a contested area, is there fighting still going on in the area?

FLINTOFF: Yes. And, in fact, local people have told us that they hear fairly frequent booms and crashes, probably of artillery fire, coming from the Luhansk area, which is - we're right close to the border with Luhansk here. We've heard actually there's quite fierce fighting in Luhansk. And in fact, some civilians have been killed. But since it's not possible to get into the city right now, that hasn't been confirmed.

RATH: NPR's Corey Flintoff. Thanks so much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Arun.

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