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Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Dutch prosecutors open criminal probe

Published on Jul 21, 2014 9:07 PM
 
Dutch Prime minister Mark Rutte arrives to meet the families of the victims of the plane crash on July 21, 2014, in Utrecht. The Dutch public prosecutor's office said Monday it had opened a preliminary criminal probe into the downing of flight MH17 over rebel-held Ukraine, which left 298 people dead, most of them Dutch. -- PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The Dutch public prosecutor's office said Monday it had opened a preliminary criminal probe into the downing of flight MH17 over rebel-held Ukraine, which left 298 people dead, most of them Dutch.

"An officer from the prosecutor's office, Thijs Berger, is in Kiev at the moment," spokesman Wim de Bruin told AFP.

Under Dutch law, the Netherlands can prosecute war crimes suspects, even for alleged crimes committed abroad, if one or more victims is Dutch.

There were 193 Dutch citizens on the doomed plane, which is believed to have been brought down by a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists.

Rebels have been accused of hindering access to the crash site and bodies since the plane came down on Thursday.

The prosecutor's office could not say what Berger would do in Ukraine as part of the probe.

The Dutch prime minister, meanwhile, threatened tough action against Russia if it did not do more to help.  

Western governments have pointed the finger of blame at pro-Russian rebels and at Moscow itself over the downing of the plane. Russia has denied involvement and blamed the Ukrainian military for the disaster.

“It is clear that Russia must use her influence on the separatists to improve the situation on the ground,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a committee of the Dutch parliament. “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.  

His comments reflected a change in tone from previous days, when he had stressed the importance of ascertaining the facts of the crash before considering a response.  Rutte on Monday promised lawmakers “measures would not be lacking” if it was confirmed who was responsible for bringing down the airliner.  Mr Rutte’s remarks followed days of mounting pressure calling on the government to take a harder line against Russia.

“In the Netherlands we are inclined to approach our opponents in a fair and socially acceptable way in hope that opponents will respond in kind,” said Dick Berlijn, a former head of the Dutch armed forces who has been outspoken in calling for a tougher approach. “What we have seen, especially with the Russian administration is this didn’t impact at all, they saw this as a weakness,” he said in an interview with Reuters.

Russia, is the Netherlands’ second-largest oil supplier and a major export destination for Dutch manufacturers. But growing consternation over the fate of flight MH-17 and its passengers may be forcing the government into taking a harder line.

On Monday afternoon, relatives of some of the passengers who lost their lives met Mr Rutte alongside the Dutch King and Queen to be briefed on efforts to recover their bodies and to allow them to give their views on what sort of a memorial service should be held.

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