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By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, July 18 (Reuters) - Russia warned on Friday against any attempts to prejudge an investigation into what brought down a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board, raising questions about the role of Ukrainian aviation authorities.
At a somber emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that began with ambassadors standing for a moment of silence, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called for an “impartial, open investigation of what happened” on Thursday.
Of the 298 people on the Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, the United Nations said 80 were children. Ambassadors from most of the 11 countries who lost citizens in the incident told the council of their states’ shock and grief.
Churkin asked: “Why did the Ukrainian aviation dispatchers send a passenger flight to an area of military clashes? An area which was being used for carrying out strikes against civilian targets ... and where there were anti-aircraft systems working?”
“International law plans for the possibility of a timely closure by the state of areas that are dangerous for flights. It would seem that there would need to be an investigation not only of the disaster but also the extent to which the Ukrainian aviation authorities carried out their obligations,” he said.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of fueling a pro-Russian uprising that threatens to break up the former Soviet republic of 46 million people. Russia denies orchestrating the unrest and says Ukraine’s attempts to end it by military force are making the situation worse.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the Security Council meeting that the Malaysian airliner was “likely downed by a surface-to-air missile, an SA-11, operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine.”
Power said it was unlikely the separatists could have effectively operated that missile system without help from knowledgeable personnel.
“Thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems,” she said. “The Ukrainians do have SA-11 systems ... However, we are not aware of any Ukrainian SAM systems in the area of the shoot-down.”
Churkin warned against attempts to pressure an investigation by “trying to prejudge its outcome with broad statements and insinuations that are unjustified in such a difficult situation.” He said an international commission should be created by the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization.
But Ukraine U.N. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told the council: “This tragedy would not have been possible if Russia did not support the terrorists and did not provide sophisticated anti-aircraft missile systems ... to terrorists.”
The 15-member Security Council issued a statement just before the meeting calling for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” and appropriate accountability. Britain drafted the short text and hoped the council could issue it on Thursday but Russia requested more time to review it.
U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council he would travel to Moscow and Kiev in the coming days. He also said ICAO made an offer to Ukraine to put together an international team of investigators.
“This horrifying incident must at the very least prompt a serious and sustained effort to end the fighting in Ukraine,” said a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Additional reporting by Mirjam Donath; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)