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Ukraine

UN to vote on resolution demanding MH17 crash site access

The UN is set to decide on a resolution demanding international access to the crash site of a downed passenger jet in Ukraine. Meanwhile, fresh fighting has erupted between government and rebel forces near Donetsk.

The UN Security Council on Monday was due to vote on an Australia-backed resolution demanding that pro-Russian separatists grant unrestricted access to the crash site of flight MH17.

President Vladimir Putin said the incident must not be used for political ends, and urged the rebels to allow international experts access to the area.

"Everything must be done to guarantee the security of international experts at the site of the tragedy," Putin said in television remarks Monday, reiterating his position that the disaster could have been avoided had Ukraine's government not ended its truce with the separatists.

"However nobody should - and no one has to the right to - use this tragedy to achieve selfish political ends," Putin said. "Such events should not divide people, but unite them."

Recovery effort

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is believed to have been shot down on Thursday by a surface-to-air missile in eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers and crew were killed.

Emergency workers have so far recovered 251 bodies and 86 fragments of bodies at the crash site, according to the Ukrainian government committee investigating the disaster. But it added that the remains of nearly 200 victims placed on special transport trains was stuck in the town of Torez because "terrorists are blocking its exit."

"This is still an absolutely shambolic situation. It does look more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters Monday. Twenty-eight Australian citizens were among the dead.

"Given the almost certain culpability of the Russian-backed rebels in downing the aircraft, having these people in control of the site is a little like leaving criminals in control of a crime scene," Abbott added.

Demanding full access

The US has said it has "powerful evidence" that separatist rebels blew up the aircraft with Russian weaponry. Russian officials have blamed Ukraine's government for creating the circumstances that led to the airliner's destruction.

The resolution calls for rebel fighters to allow full access to the crash site, and the complete cooperation of countries in the region, including Russia.

It also called for armed groups controlling the area to not disturb debris, belongings or victims' remains. The resolution also urges countries to respect international civil aviation safety rules in order to prevent similar disasters in the future.

Russia, a permanent Security Council member, has the right to veto power, but Moscow's ambassador to Australia said Monday that his country was willing to back the measure.

"This resolution is supported by Russia … so long as it does not blame somebody," Ambassador Vladimir Morozov said in an interview with the Australian Financial Review.

Fighting in Donetsk

At a train station near the rebel-held eastern city of Donetsk Monday, witnesses reported hearing loud explosions and seeing plumes of smoke as separatists battled with Ukrainian forces.

The Donetsk city council warned citizens of the violence in a statement, urging residents in affected areas "not to go out and not to leave their homes and apartments."

A Ukraine military spokesman said their operation in the east was in an "active phase" but would not comment on reports of troops entering Donetsk.

dr/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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