VIJFHUIZEN, Netherlands (AFP) - Relatives of those killed when flight MH17 was downed over Ukraine in mid-2014, on Saturday ((March 18) planted the first trees in a Dutch memorial park not far from where the ill-fated plane departed.
"Today is a very important day for all the next of kin. We are planting the first trees... to create a monument for MH17," Evert van Zijtveld, chairman of the MH17 victims' foundation said.
"We are planting the trees to ensure their memory will not be forgotten and to remind us that we still want justice for MH17," Van Zijtveld, who lost a son, daughter and his parents-in-law, told AFP.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur killing all 298 on board, most of them Dutch citizens.
"The 298 trees will remind us of each life that was stolen on July 17 that year," said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, who also planted a tree.
The park, in the shape of a giant ribbon consisting of apple, ash and hawthorn trees among others, lies a few kilometres from Schiphol airport, from where MH17 took off.
A Dutch-led criminal investigation into the attack concluded in September last year that a BUK missile, transported from Russia, was fired from a field in a part of war-torn Ukraine then controlled by pro-Russian rebels, and hit the plane.
But it stopped short of saying who pulled the trigger.
The Dutch-led investigation did not directly accuse Moscow of supplying the BUK missile and its transporter system - and the Russian government has repeatedly denied any involvement.
The incident came at the most heated point in the war, straining tensions between the West and Moscow even further.