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UN Security Council Condemns Downing Of Malaysian Airliner; Black Boxes Handed Over


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) and Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine Kees Klompenhouwer lay flowers at the Dutch Embassy in Kyiv on July 21 in commemoration of the 298 victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) and Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine Kees Klompenhouwer lay flowers at the Dutch Embassy in Kyiv on July 21 in commemoration of the 298 victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash.

The UN Security Council has unanimously passed a resolution condemning the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane in eastern Ukraine with 298 people aboard.

It also demanded that armed groups allow "safe, secure, full, and unrestricted access" to the crash site.

The vote came shortly before Malaysian officials met with separatists in eastern Ukraine, where they eventually handed over what appeared to be the two black boxes, presumably containing flight recordings that are essential to any investigation, from the doomed aircraft.

The Security Council adopted the Australia-proposed resolution in a televised vote after a weekend of intense negotiations and widespread pressure on Russia to vote in favor.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who traveled to New York to negotiate the UN resolution, said "we owe it to the victims and their families to determine what happened and who was responsible."

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans urged the council to ensure that victims' remains could be brought home as soon as possible.

"To my dying day I will not understand that it took so much time for the rescue workers to be allowed to do their difficult jobs and that human remains should be used in a political game," Timmermans said.

Australia lost 37 citizens and residents in the crash, while the Netherlands lost 193.

The text also demands unimpeded international access to the crash site and accountability for those responsible.

U.S. UN Ambassador Samantha Power said there would have been no need for the resolution had Russia pressed the rebels to allow international experts full access to the crash site.

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was satisfied that the International Civil Aviation Organization would have a prominent role in the investigation, and welcomed the announcement that the Netherlands would also take a lead role.

The vote came after a weekend of negotiations to overcome Russian objections to the text.

Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev also addressed the Security Council, welcoming the resolution and calling for the rebel groups to be recognized by the world as terrorist organizations.

The passage came with anger mounting at what many Western leaders regard as foot-dragging or outright obstruction by Russian-backed separatists on the ground near the crash site in eastern Ukraine as well as by Russia, which is thought to hold considerable influence over the armed enemies of the government in Kyiv.

Ahead of the UN vote, U.S. President Barack Obama said that "Russia -- and President Putin in particular -- has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation. That is the least that they can do," he said, speaking from the White House.

He accused rebels of removing evidence from the crash site, adding, "All of which begs the question: What exactly are they trying to hide?"

Obama urged Moscow to respond to the airline tragedy to pivot away from its current strategy in Ukraine -- where it has annexed Crimea and fueled armed separatism since President Viktor Yanukovych fled in late February -- and warned that the "costs for Russia's behavior will only continue to increase."

Obama: Putin Must Compel Rebels To Cooperate With Crash Probe
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Washington and the European Union have already passed several rounds of sanctions targeting senior individuals and legal entities in Russia and the separatist territories in Ukraine to persuade Moscow to stop feeding the violence.

"If Russia is not part of the solution, it will continue to be part of the problem," UN Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the Security Council after the July 21 vote.

Russian officials have repeatedly argued that the Ukrainian army or other culprits were responsible, even suggesting on July 21 that a Ukrainian fighter jet was in the air in the Malaysian aircraft's vicinity.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dismissed that assertion as "not true" and told CNN that "everybody knows that in this period of time when the tragedy happened all Ukrainian planes were on the ground" in the area of the incident.

Black Boxes Recovered

Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the crash, drafted the UN resolution. Its text demands that those responsible "be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability."

Leaders of the self-styled "Donetsk People's Republic" had vowed to hand over the black-box flight recorders that could be key to the investigation, and arranged a meeting with representatives of Malaysia at a hotel in Donetsk late on July 21.

Hours later, the pro-Russians had handed over black boxes to Malaysian experts.

After several chaotic hours, senior separatist leader Aleksander Borodai handed what he claimed were Flight 17's flight data recorders early on July 22 local time in Donetsk.

"Here they are, the black boxes," Borodai told a room packed with journalists at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic as an armed rebel placed the boxes on a desk.

Both sides then signed a document, which Borodai said was a protocol to finalize the procedure.

Colonel Mohamed Sakri of Malaysia's National Security Council told the meeting the two black boxes were "in good condition."

European Officials Discuss Next Step

The Security Council vote comes with EU envoys already gathered in Brussels ahead of an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting to discuss further punishment of Russia over its actions in Ukraine and in connection with the investigation into the downed airliner.

But most observers didn't expect EU members to go significantly further than sanctions passed last week, and speculated the EU envoys might agree on individuals and possibly legal entities that would be hit by the sanctions announced last week.

A train carrying remains of most of the airline crash's victims has departed from the separatist-held town of Torez, near where the plane's wreckage fell, and are said to be on their way to be handed over for forensic tests.

OSCE investigators on the scene and other international representatives have expressed frustration at separatist obstruction around the crash site, but were said to have been given freer access to evidence days after the incident.

The United States and Ukrainian officials have blamed Russian-backed separatists and suggested Russian complicity in the downing and the stonewalling that has followed.

The separatists control the area where the plane went down and had downed several Ukrainian military planes in the days before the Malaysian airliner was struck by a missile, dooming it and its 298 passengers and crew.

Earlier on July 21, Ukrainian officials said they would hand over control of the investigation into the crash to international experts and suggested the Netherlands should lead the process.

They added that they would "transport all bodies to the Netherlands."

Fierce fighting was reported during much of the day in Donetsk, a separatist stronghold in eastern Ukraine, with tanks and other heavy weapons in evidence.

Written by Andy Heil based on televised events, with Reuters, AFP, and Russian agency reports
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