AMSTERDAM – Malaysia's prime minister on Thursday called on Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists to agree to a cease-fire in the area surrounding the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down.
Two weeks after the plane's destruction on July 17, the remains and personal possessions of many of the victims haven't been recovered — to the anguish of their relatives and friends.
"The conflict in eastern Ukraine may not be easily resolved, but the people on board that plane had no part in it," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said shortly before investigators succeeded in reaching the crash site.
Razak, who was speaking in a joint news conference with Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte in The Hague, is visiting the Netherlands to discuss repatriating Malaysian victims' remains and the security situation in Ukraine.
"We ask there be an immediate cessation of hostilities in and around the crash site by both Ukrainian and separatist forces," Razak said. "We ask that all sides respect the lives lost and the integrity of the crash site so that the investigation may proceed."
All 298 passengers and crew aboard Flight 17 were killed, including 43 Malaysians and 195 Dutch nationals. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said around 80 bodies have yet to be recovered from the wreckage, which had been inaccessible to investigators for days because of fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russia separatists.
The remains of more than 200 victims that have been recovered and brought to the Netherlands are being painstakingly identified at a military base in Hilversum, a process expected to take weeks or months.
Razak signed a condolence register for victims and will visit the Hilversum center later Thursday.
Rutte said "the pain of the terrible accident is almost unbearable."