UPDATE 1-Air crash victims begin their journey to the Netherlands - Dutch PM

Mon Jul 21, 2014 2:15pm EDT

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By Thomas Escritt and Harro Ten Wolde

AMSTERDAM, July 21 (Reuters) - The bodies of some of the 298 people who were killed in the downing of a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine last week are being transported to the Netherlands, the Dutch prime minister said on Monday.

Mark Rutte told a news conference that a train carrying around 200 body bags was on its way to Donetsk, from where the bodies can be taken back to the Netherlands to be identified.

"The train is going to Donetsk, which is held by rebels, and the aim is that it will continue to the final destination Kharkhiv. This will take many hours," Rutte said. "In Kharkhiv, we are ready to pick up the bodies."

The bodies of the victims, 193 of whom were Dutch, had been lying strewn across the fields where they fell for more than four days as Moscow-backed rebels argued with investigators and the Ukrainian and western govrernments over who should have access to them.

The Dutch government is taking the lead in identifying the victims and has said it wants to do the forensic examination in the Netherlands. But Rutte warned the process would not be a quick one.

"It last 10 or 12 hours just to get to Kharkhiv, and then you have technical problems making sure the bodies get to the Netherlands as quickly as possible," he said.

"The logistics are very difficult. It's going to be a long night," said a western European official familiar with the operation. (Reporting By Thomas Escritt, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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