Families riled by KL's plan to 'move forward with next step'

FRESH tension broke out between Malaysian officials and relatives of the mainland Chinese passengers on board missing Flight MH370 after a diplomat suggested that the Malaysian government had decided to "move forward with the next step".

Many of the relatives, already incensed that a long-awaited meeting with technical experts yesterday was cancelled, flew into a rage when they became convinced that Malaysia's intention was to issue death certificates, dispense compensation and compel them to leave Beijing, where they have been staying for 45 days. 

In the heated meeting, the Malaysian Embassy's deputy chief of mission Bala Chandran Tharman told some 500 relatives that another team of Malaysian officials and MAS staff would arrive in Beijing by tomorrow to discuss this "next step" with them. He provided no details.

"We will never accept this until they have found the plane," family representative Steve Wang told The Straits Times. "If the plane is found, we will go home. When the truth is out, we will go home. How long we stay here is not up to us, it's up to them." 

In a statement issued to the media later, the relatives said they "reject any effort to interfere with the search for the missing plane" and they "have only one motive: to find the plane and to find our loved ones".

MAS has been housing the family members - two hotel rooms per passenger - in four-star hotels here, and is also covering all their meal and travel expenses. In addition, 31,000 yuan (S$6,200) has been given out to each family. 

At yesterday's meeting, the family members were incensed at what they said was a "breaking of word" by the Malaysian authorities and MAS, which had promised that a technical team would meet them every five days. But the last such meeting was on April 16.

The families had spent many days preparing for the session that was supposed to have taken place yesterday, a woman told Mr Bala. 

"We just want to help you locate the plane. Since nothing has been found in the southern Indian Ocean, perhaps the satellite analysis that you relied on to tell us that our loved ones are dead is wrong?" she said. 

On March 24, two weeks after MH370 disappeared, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that according to satellite analysis from British firm Inmarsat, the flight had ended in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors.

But despite a massive underwater search effort in that area since, no debris, nor the plane's black box, has been located.

In Beijing, the afternoon session reached tense heights as the family members hurled expletives in frustration at Mr Bala and called the Malaysian authorities "shameless" and "without morals". 

The meeting turned emotional as 63-year-old Wen Wancheng, whose son was on the plane, broke down while berating Mr Bala.

With many among the relatives openly sobbing as well, he said: "If my son is dead, I must see the body."

rchang@sph.com.sg