(Adds U.S., Russian, Dutch and Australian comments, background; in paragraphs 4, 10-12, 14-19)
By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, July 21 (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council on Monday condemned the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane in Ukraine with 298 people on board and demanded that armed groups allow “safe, secure, full and unrestricted access” to the crash site.
The 15-member council unanimously adopted an Australian-drafted resolution demanding those responsible “be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability.”
“We owe it to the victims and their families to determine what happened and who was responsible,” said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who traveled to New York to negotiate the U.N. resolution. Australia lost 28 citizens in the crash.
She spoke about some of the Australian victims, including three children - aged 8, 10 and 12 - traveling home from Europe with their grandfather on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on Thursday. “The parents are inconsolable in their grief,” Bishop said.
The United States and its allies have blamed pro-Russian rebels for downing the plane.
Bishop told the council that Russia “must use its influence over the separatists” to ensure access to the site.
Veto-wielding council member Russia voted for the resolution after some changes were made to the text, including the characterization of the incident as the “downing” of the airliner instead of “shooting down.”
A request by Moscow for references to armed groups to be removed was not granted.
The resolution “demands that the armed groups in control of the crash site and the surrounding area refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the crash site, including by refraining from destroying, moving, or disturbing wreckage, equipment, debris, personal belongings, or remains.”
A train carrying the remains of most of the victims of the downed plane left the site on Monday and will be handed over to authorities in the Netherlands, after the Malaysian Prime Minister reached a deal with the leader of pro-Russian separatists controlling the area.
Almost 200 of the victims on the flight to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam were Dutch. An emotional Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said it was despicable that human remains were being used in a political game.
“We will not rest until all facts are known and justice is served,” Timmermans said.
The resolution “supports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines” and “demands all States and other actors refrain from acts of violence directed against civilian aircraft.”
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Russia was ready to assist an international investigation but warned against “jumping to conclusions” on who was to blame. Evidence should be given to the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization, he said.
Churkin said Ukraine had questions to answer regarding the actions of its air traffic controllers and why a Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft missile system “was in an area directly controlled by rebels” and why it was removed just after the downing of the airliner.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Monday challenged accusations that pro-Russian separatists were responsible for shooting down the airliner and said Ukrainian warplanes had flown close to it.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council there had been too little condemnation from Russia.
“If Russia genuinely believe that Ukraine was involved in the shoot-down of flight 17 surely President (Vladimir) Putin would have told the separatists ... to guard the evidence at all costs,” Power said.
When asked what Russia would tell the separatists, Churkin told reporters: “Our message is reflected in the resolution, this is our message.” (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli, Chizu Nomiyama and Mohammad Zargham)