(Updates with Malaysian PM, Obama)
* Train carrying victims' remains sets off
* Remains to be handed to Netherlands, says Malaysian PM
* Dutch investigators praise recovery crews
* Russia challenges U.S. to prove it was involved
* U.N. Security Council to vote Monday on Ukraine resolution
By Anton Zverev and Peter Graff
DONETSK, Ukraine, July 21 A train carrying the
remains of most of the almost 300 victims of the Malaysia
Airlines plane downed over Ukraine left the site on Monday,
after the Malaysian Prime Minister reached a deal with the
leader of pro-Russian separatists controlling the area.
The aircraft's black boxes, which could hold information
about the crash in rebel-held eastern Ukraine but will not
pinpoint who did it, would be given to the Malaysian
authorities, Prime Minister Najib Razak said, indicating he had
bypassed Kiev, which has lost control of much of the east.
The expected handover of the bodies and the black boxes, and
reports by international investigators of improved access to the
wreckage of the airliner four days after it was shot down,
weakened a new case for broader sanctions against Russia laid
out by Western leaders struggling to agree a united response.
The Malaysian leader said he had reached an agreement with
the separatists for 282 recovered bodies to be handed over to
the authorities in the Netherlands, where the largest number of
victims came from.
The shooting down of the airliner on Thursday sharply
deepened the Ukrainian crisis, in which separatist gunmen in the
Russian-speaking east have been fighting government forces since
pro-Western protesters in Kiev forced out a pro-Moscow president
and Russia annexed Crimea in March.
Shaken by the deaths of 298 people from across the globe,
Western governments have threatened Russia with stiffer
penalties for what they say is its backing of pro-Russian
militia who, their evidence suggests, shot the plane down.
But, with Russia challenging them to produce proof, some of
those taking a firmer line are saying the acid test will be if
the separatists improve access to the site and Russia stops
European Union foreign ministers are due to discuss further
penalties on Tuesday, but the most they are expected to do is to
speed up implementation of sanctions against individuals, and
possibly companies, agreed in principle last week before the
plane was brought down.
Diplomats say more serious sanctions against whole sectors
of the Russian economy will depend largely on the line taken by
the Dutch, due to the number of Dutch victims.
PRAISE FOR RECOVERY CREWS
Emotions ran high in the Netherlands, where prosecutors
opened a war crimes investigation. Prime Minister Mark Rutte
told parliament his government's priority was to recover and
identify the bodies of the passengers.
"It is clear that Russia must use her influence on the
separatists to improve the situation on the ground," Rutte said.
"If in the coming days access to the disaster area remains
inadequate, then all political, economic and financial options
are on the table against those who are directly or indirectly
responsible for that," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama echoed that approach.
"Now's the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away
from the strategy that they've been taking and get serious about
trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine," he said at the
Putin and Russia have a direct responsibility to compel
separatists to cooperate with the investigation, and the burden
is now on Moscow to insist that separatists stop tampering with
the investigation, he said.
European security monitors said gunmen stopped them
inspecting the site when they arrived on Friday, and Ukrainian
officials said separatists had tampered with vital evidence,
allegations echoed by Obama.
"What are they trying to hide?" the U.S. president said.
But the spokesman for the European security monitors said
they had had unfettered access on Monday, and three members of a
Dutch disaster victims identification team arrived at a railway
station near the crash site and inspected the storage of the
bodies in refrigerated rail cars.
Peter van Vliet, whose team went through the wagons dressed
in surgical masks and rubber gloves, said he was impressed by
the work the recovery crews had done, given the heat and the
scale of the crash site. "I think they did a hell of a job in a
hell of a place," he said.
As they went about their work, fighting flared in Donetsk,
some 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the site, in a reminder of
the dangers the experts face operating in a war zone.
The government in Kiev denied sending the regular army into
the centre of Donetsk, which pro-Russian separatists captured in
April, but said small "self-organised" pro-Ukrainian groups were
fighting the rebels in the city.
Four people were killed in clashes, health officials said.
Donetsk is at the heart of a rebel uprising against rule by
Kiev, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to
retake the city as part of what Kiev calls its "anti-terrorist
operation" against the separatists.
Russia's defence ministry challenged accusations that
pro-Russian separatists were responsible for shooting down the
airliner and said Ukrainian warplanes had flown close to it.
The ministry also rejected accusations that Russia had
supplied the rebels with SA-11 Buk anti-aircraft missile systems
- the weapon said by Kiev and the West to have downed the
airliner - "or any other weapons".
SHOCK TURNS TO ANGER
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry laid out what he called
overwhelming evidence of Russian complicity in the shooting down
of the Malaysia Airlines plane, and expressed disgust at how the
bodies of the victims had been treated at the crash site.
"Drunken separatists have been piling bodies into trucks and
removing them from the site," he said on NBC television on
Sunday. "What's happening is really grotesque, and it is
contrary to everything President Putin and Russia said they
Television images of the rebel-controlled crash site, where
the remains of victims had lain decomposing in fields among
their personal belongings, have turned initial shock and sorrow
after Thursday's disaster into anger.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken to
Putin for the first time about the disaster. At least 27
Australians were on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Abbott said an Australian investigation team was in Kiev but
had been unable to travel to the site. He said there had been
some improvement with the Ukrainian government offering access.
"But there's still a hell of a long way to go before anyone
could be satisfied with the way that site is being treated,"
Abbott said. "It's more like a garden clean-up than a forensic
investigation. This is completely unacceptable."
Putin, in a televised address, said the downing of the
airliner must not be used for political ends and urged
separatists to allow international experts access to the crash
The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to vote on Monday on
a resolution that would condemn the downing of the plane, and
demand that those responsible be held accountable and that armed
groups not compromise the integrity of the crash site.
(Additional reporting by Peter Graff in Hrabove, Pavel
Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Elizabeth Piper in Kiev, Jim Loney,
Doina Chiacu, Ayesha Rascoe and Mark Hosenball in Washington,
Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Allison Lampert in
Montreal, Lincoln Feast and Jane Wardell in Sydney, William
James in London and Nicholas Vinocur in Paris; Writing by Giles
Elgood; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Will Waterman)