A Ukrainian government official charged Wednesday that Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine had mined the approaches to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which international observers once again tried and failed to reach.
The U.S. and Ukrainian governments say the Boeing 777 airliner, carrying 298 people, was shot down on July 17 by a missile fired from areas controlled by the separatists who have been fighting the Ukrainian government.
The rebels deny shooting down the plane; Russia denies providing the Buk missile launcher and says the Ukrainian military may have shot the plane down.
While Ukrainian troops have gained on rebel positions in recent days, the separatists continue to control the crash site area,which is several miles wide.
"They drew up there a large amount of heavy artillery and mined the approaches to the area,"said Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, Ukrinform reports. "This makes it impossible for the international experts to start work and establish the reasons for the downing of the Boeing 777."
The claims regarding mines could not immediately be independently confirmed
Lysenko said that Ukrainian troops weren't conducting operations against separatists near the site, but were trying to cut off their supply lines to force them to leave the area.
On Wednesday, Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe set out in two vehicles — without frustrated crash investigators from the Netherlands who have been trying to reach the site for four days.
The OSCE observers headed back to the city of Donetsk after discussions with rebels on the city's outskirts not long after starting what would have been a two-hour journey to the site.
That means that almost two weeks after the shootdown, safety concerns and hindrance from the separatists who control the area are still obstructing access to the site. Foreign governments whose citizens died have complained the site is still not secured and some human remains have not been recovered. International observers say wreckage has been cut, moved or otherwise tampered with.
Most of the bodies were recovered by teams organized by separatists in the first few days after the crash. Those were flown to The Netherlands, which had the most victims on the ill-fated flight. The flight was en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam when it was shot down.
OSCE observers did not immediately tell journalists accompanying them what specific issue made them turned back.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces took control of the town of Avdeevka, just to the north of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. The town is near the airport, which has been fought over for weeks by rebels and government forces. Local officials said fighting over the past 24 hours killed 19 people in the region.
Ukrainian forces continue to encircle Horlivka, another key town northeast of Donetsk. The city of Donetsk is one of the main strongholds for the insurrection in the east and taking Horlivka would open the way to move against Donetsk, the Ukrainian military has said.
Contributing: Associated Press
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