Grabone, Ukraine - International monitors said Sunday that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine had loaded scores of bodies from the crash site of downed Malaysian jet MH17 into train wagons as grieving families clamoured to have their loved ones brought home.
Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found the corpses packed into a series of refrigerated train wagons at a station in the town of Torez, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the crash site.
Spokesman Michael Bociurkiw described the stench at the station as “almost unbearable” and said separatists guarding the grisly cargo had pledged not to move the bodies until “international experts” arrive.
Top rebel leader Alexander Borodai told Russia's Echo of Moscow radio the fighters had loaded 196 bodies on to the trains.
What happens to the remains of the 298 people killed in the apparent shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane Thursday has become of primary concern after they lay for days rotting in cornfields.
World leaders have demanded Russian President Vladimir Putin use his influence to persuade the rebels to hand over the victims and allow international investigators unfettered access to the crash site in Grabove.
The United States believes Moscow provided Ukrainian rebels with the missile launchers that blasted the plane out of the sky, several US newspapers reported.
France warned Russia on Sunday of “consequences” at the EU if Moscow did not “immediately take the necessary measures”, after the leaders of France, Germany and Britain held a conference call.
An AFP crew found the scene of the tragedy largely abandoned Sunday, with all the bodies removed from the main impact site and the discarded gloves of emergency workers scattered around.
Near the blackened piles of mangled wreckage, lay the scattered possessions of the victims: suitcases torn open, passports, books, children's toys.
OSCE monitors escorted by armed rebels appeared Sunday to be granted greater freedom to examine the site, with investigators from the Netherlands set to arrive in Donetsk.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte - his shocked nation flying flags at half mast in mourning over 192 lost compatriots - urged Putin during a “very intense” call to “take responsibility” for a credible probe.
Across the globe relatives in the dozen countries whose citizens were killed when the Boeing 777 disintegrated as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur pleaded for them to be brought home.
“At this current moment I hope the world can assist the families to bring back the remains,” Zulkifli Abdul Rahman, brother-in-law of one of the cabin crew, told AFP in Kuala Lumpur.
Ukraine accuses Russia of helping the gun-toting militias of hiding and destroying vital evidence that could prove their alleged involvement in the downing of the jet.
But top Russian officials and Moscow's state media have suggested that Kiev's new leaders staged the attack to blame the rebels and convince their Western allies to deploy troops and help seal Ukraine's porous border with its giant eastern neighbour.
The United States has called for “material evidence, including black boxes” to be handed over to international inspectors so they could take immediate charge of an independent probe, voicing concerns the removal of evidence from the scene.
But Putin firmly denies exerting any control over the uprising and a top rebel commander sent an e-mail to the media on Sunday saying they would only accede to the demands if Kiev agrees to a truce to end months of fighting in the east.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who won a May election following the ouster of a Kremlin-backed regime, ripped up a shaky ceasefire on July 1 and has refused to announce a new one until the separatists give up their arms.
Poroshenko spent much of the day Saturday pressing world leaders to recognise the militias as a terrorist organisation that should be put on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
He told French President Francois Hollande that the downing near Ukraine's Russian border of flight MH17 was similar to such atrocities as the 2001 attacks on the United States.
“We see no difference between the events in Ukraine and what happened on September 11 in the United States or the tragedy over Scotland's Lockerbie,” Poroshenko said in reference to the 1988
bombing for Pan Am Flight 103 that claimed nearly 300 lives.
The MH17 disaster came less than a day after the United States unleashed punishing sanctions against some of Russia's most biggest military firms - most of them with links to Putin - and urged more hesitant European leaders to follow suit.
The European Union - many of its member states dependent on Russian gas - took the far less punitive step Friday of curbing some future investments in Russia and leaving the option open for broader sanctions.
But British Prime Minister David Cameron raised the prospect of fresh EU sanctions against Russia over the Malaysian plane crash, saying the West must “fundamentally change our approach” unless Moscow alters course in Ukraine.
“Russia can use this moment to find a path out of this festering, dangerous crisis. I hope it will do so. But if that does not happen then we must respond robustly,” he wrote in the Sunday Times.
Cameron said confirmation of the plane being blown out of the sky at 33,000 feet (10,000) metres by a surface-to-air missile fired from an area held by the rebels would place the responsibility firmly on Russia.
“If it is the case, then we must be clear what it means: this is a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias, and training and arming them,” Cameron wrote. - Sapa-AFP