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Ukraine Says It Has 'Compelling Evidence' Of Russian Involvement In Downing Of Malaysian Jet

A piece of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, July 19, 2014.

A piece of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, July 19, 2014.  (ap)

The Ukrainian government and separatist rebels accuse each other of shooting down the Boeing 777 with a surface-to-air missile. Many see the hand of Russia, either for its alleged support of the insurgents or perhaps firing the missile itself. The crash site is near the Russian border.

The plane crashed Thursday, killing all 298 passengers and crew, most of them Dutch citizens.

In a press conference in Kiev, the head of Ukrainian counterintelligence, Vitaly Nayda, said his government has “compelling evidence” that Moscow supplied missile systems to the pro-Russian rebels, as well as the men to operate them.

"We have compelling evidence that this terrorist act was committed with the help of the Russian Federation. We know they were Russian citizens," he said, while showing pictures of what would be three Buk missile systems on their way to Russia.

According to Nayda, two of the launchers, which were mounted on armored vehicles, crossed from Ukrainian territory to Russia at two in the morning (local time) on Friday, about 10 hours after the aircraft was downed. The third launcher, he said, crossed the border two hours later.

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At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday, the U.S. pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner likely was downed by an SA-11 missile and "we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel."

On Saturday, an angry Dutch prime minister told reporters he had an "extremely intense" telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he urged him to "show the world he intends to help" in the investigation into the Ukraine air disaster.

Rutte said he was "shocked by images of completely disrespectful behavior" of rebels picking through the wreckage and personal belongings of victims at the crash scene.

Also on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a phone call that the sides should enter talks and stop fighting, according to a Kremlin statement. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. counterpart John Kerry took a similar view, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Amid wide calls for an international investigation, doubts arose about whether the evidence was being compromised before inspectors ever reach the scene.

The government in Kiev said militiamen have removed 38 bodies from the crash site and have taken them to the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It said the bodies were transported with the assistance of specialists with distinct Russian accents.

The rebels are also "seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia," the Ukrainian government said Saturday.

In Donetsk, separatist leader Alexander Borodai denied that any bodies had been transferred or that the rebels had in any way interfered with the work of observers. He said he encouraged the involvement of the international community in assisting with the cleanup before the conditions of the bodies worsens significantly.

Ukraine called on Moscow to insist that the pro-Russia rebels grant international experts the ability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into the downing of the plane — echoing a demand that President Barack Obama issued a day earlier from Washington.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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