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Saturday July 19, 2014 MYT 6:40:04 AM
Saturday July 19, 2014 MYT 6:40:04 AM
by anton zverev
DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) - Gunmen prevented monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe from observing the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed in rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday, officials said.
Calling their behaviour "impolite and unprofessional", a spokesman for the security watchdog said some gunmen in the area seemed intoxicated while others would not let the team of about 25 observers look at the wreckage of the Boeing 777.
"We had expected unfettered access, that's the way we work," Michael Bociurkiw told a news conference.
"Unfortunately the task was made very difficult. Upon arrival at the site ... we encountered armed personnel who acted in a very impolite and unprofessional manner. Some of them even looked slightly intoxicated."
He denied that the observers had been fired at by pro-Russian rebels, but said one gunman fired shots into the air seemingly to scare off some civilians.
World leaders have called for a rapid investigation into the shooting down of the airliner, which could mark a pivotal moment in deteriorating relations between Russia and the West. The United States and Britain said a surface-to-air missile appeared to have been fired from rebel held territory.
Earlier, the OSCE's permanent council chairman, Thomas Greminger, said monitors had not been able to secure an access corridor to the crash site.
"In the current circumstances, they were not able to help securing this corridor that would allow access for those that would want to investigate," Greminger, who is Switzerland's ambassador to the European rights and security watchdog, told Reuters by telephone. He said a team of OSCE monitors had stayed at the crash site for about 75 minutes and then set off back to Donetsk.
Bociurkiw said the team would visit the site again on Saturday all day after "we unfortunately could not get much done today because of the behaviour of the armed individuals and the lack of access".
He said the team could not find anyone to talk to about the airliner's black box, and that it was not clear who was in charge of the territory where the airliner crashed.
"The crash site is a very large area and there may be more than one group who holds sway over that area," he said.
He added that while the bodies had not been touched - they seemed to be lying where they fell, personal possessions appeared to have been arranged in piles as if "for show".
Some of the bodies showed early signs of decomposition.
"As for observing close up the wreckage of the Boeing 777 that was very difficult. The armed guards did not allow us very much leeway to leave the roadway and look at the wreckage," he said.
(additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in Geneva, writing by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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