Tenuous Progress At Jet's Crash Site, As Clashes Flare Close By

The first Dutch investigators have reached the crash site of the Malaysian airliner shot down in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, fighting broke out in the outskirts of Donetsk between separatists and armed groups supporting the government in Kiev.

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Eastern Ukraine, progress today in the effort to recover bodies and evidence from last week's Malaysia Airlines crash. International investigators have begun arriving in the region and a train bearing remaining victims is on its way out. In Washington today, Pres. Obama demanded that Russia do more to help the investigation.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia and Pres. Putin in particular has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation, that is the least that they can do.

SIEGEL: NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine and he joins us now. And Corey there've been significant developments in this case today. Fill us in on what's been happening.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Yes, the latest news is that the separatists are expected to hand over the plane's voice and data recorders to a Malaysian forensic team that just arrived here in Donetsk. You know, there's been a lot of concern about the fate of those recorders so this should give the experts a chance to see what information they might provide. Also this evening a train with most of the remains of the victim set out on what's expected to be a slow trip to Kharkiv, those remains are supposed to be turned over to Dutch authorities who will fly them back to the Netherlands for identification. The other significant development is that fighting has flared up here in Donetsk next which of course raises safety concerns for the investigators.

SIEGEL: Yes, this whole effort is taking place in an active conflict zone between two sides that aren't talking to each other. How are these arrangements carried out?

FLINTOFF: Well, a deal was apparently reached between the Malaysia Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and the separatist leaders. Razak said that he negotiated directly with the separatists which suggests that he left the Ukrainian government authorities out of the loop. You know Robert the level of distrust between the separatists and the government is so intense here that it might have been impossible for them to agree on anything connected with the crash. Each side accuses the other shooting down the plane and trying to suppress evidence that they did it. The separatist leader Alexander Borodai told us today at a news conference that this latest fighting in Donetsk was started by the Ukrainian government to convince international experts that the place had is just too dangerous to carry out investigation. Of course, the government forces insist that they're just carrying on with their military operation against the rebels.

SIEGEL: Tell us more, Corey, about this fighting in Donetsk which I gather is taking place almost in the center of the city.

FLINTOFF: Yeah, it began this morning we started hearing explosions from the direction of the airport and then we got word that there was fighting at the train station as well. Police blocked off some of the major streets leading into those areas city officials warned people to move out or at least stay indoors. And by late afternoon we were seeing smoke rising from the direction of the airport and smoke actually from some areas closer to the center of the city.

SIEGEL: The U.N. Security Council today unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that armed groups allow safe unrestricted access to the crash site and calling for those responsible to be held account. Unanimously of course means that includes Russia supported that resolution. But given the situation there now does that seem possible?

FLINTOFF: I went to a news conference just a short while ago held by the exorbitant mission for the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe and they've had some very frustrating days trying to get access to the crash site but a spokesman said today that got a lot more freedom of movement now. On the other hand the question of holding people to account for shooting the plane down may be a lot more difficult. Sec. of State Kerry said that there's compelling evidence that the rebels did it but today the Russian Defense Ministry denied supplying the separatist with anti-aircraft missiles or any other kind of weapons. So talk to see how there can be agreement on accountability.

SIEGEL: That's NPR Coery Flintoff, in Donetsk - Eastern Ukraine. Corey, thanks.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Robert.

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