Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks at a press conference at an Eid al-Fitr open house celebration in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. The Eid al-Fitr celebration marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Annice Lyn)

Brussels, Belgium - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday slammed his Malaysian counterpart for creating "confusion" by criticising a decision to charge four people over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Mahathir Mohamad had called the move by Dutch-led investigators to charge three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder for the 2014 disaster "ridiculous" and "politically motivated" against Moscow.

"I can imagine that relatives must be very disappointed about it and also that it sows confusion," Rutte told reporters ahead of an EU summit in Brussels when asked about Mahathir's remarks.

Rutte said the Dutch foreign ministry would contact the Malaysian government about Mahathir's comments, adding that he wanted "to await the results of this first before making further statements".

The Boeing 777 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was blown apart by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed rebels on July 17, 2014.

All 298 people on board were killed, 196 of them Dutch.

Malaysia is part of a Dutch-led joint criminal investigation team, together with Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, to identify and prosecute those responsible for shooting the plane out of the sky.

The team announced on Wednesday that a trial of the four suspects with links to Ukrainian separatists would start in March 2020.

But the 93-year-old Mahathir -- back in power in Malaysia after a previous twenty-year stint from 1981 to 2003 that was criticised as authoritarian -- said the charges were a "ridiculous thing".

"We are very unhappy because from the very beginning it became a political issue on how to accuse Russia of wrong-doing," he told reporters in Malaysia earlier Thursday.

"As far as we are concerned we want proof of guilt. So far there is no proof. Only hearsay."

The Malaysian foreign ministry said in an earlier statement that it "appreciates" the announcement by the Dutch-led investigation team. 

Moscow has slammed the "absolutely unfounded accusations", while the US urged Russia to ensure that those charged with murder face justice.

AFP