Solemn ceremony for MH17 victims

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The Netherlands has received the first victims’ bodies from crashed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in a solemn ceremony at Eindhoven air base.

Forty hearses left for the town of Hilversum where the formal identification process will begin.

The Netherlands is observing a national day of mourning for the 298 victims, most of whom were Dutch.

Ukrainian pro-Russian rebels have been widely accused of shooting down the plane on 17 July.

UK government sources say intelligence shows rebels deliberately tampered with evidence, moving bodies and placing parts from other planes in the debris.

As fighting continued in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, officials in Kiev told the BBC that two aircraft, thought to be military jets, had been downed just 35km (20 miles) from the crash site.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk later told the BBC that one of the fighters could have been hit by an air-to-air missile. He did not directly accuse Russia but said it was not brought down by a Ukrainian jet.

Two military planes – one Dutch and the other Australian – carrying the first 40 coffins landed at Eindhoven air base on Wednesday afternoon. They were met by members of the Dutch royal family, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of victims’ relatives.ceremoney2ceremoney3ceremoney4

Churches around the Netherlands rang their bells for five minutes before the planes landed, and flags of all the nations affected by the disaster have been flying at half mast. There was also a minute’s silence.

The coffins were slowly loaded into a fleet of waiting hearses which then moved off in motorcades.

All the bodies are being taken to the Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks south of the city of Hilversum for identification, a process that could take months.

Earlier, the coffins had been loaded on to the planes by a military guard of honour at Kharkiv airport in eastern Ukraine.

There has been mounting international anger at the delays in recovering the bodies.

However, separatist leader Alexander Borodai told BBC Newsnight that international observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had told them to leave the bodies to be collected by experts.

“So we wait a day. We wait a second day. A third day. Come on! Not a single expert. Well, to leave the bodies there any longer, in 30 degree heat, it’s absurd. It’s simply inhuman. It’s a scene from a horror movie,” he said.

OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw denied they told rebels not to move the bodies. He told the BBC: “It is not consistent with our mandate to tell people what to do. We’re here to monitor, observe and report.”