Dutch, Ukrainian governments sued over Malaysia jet shoot-down

Two lawsuits challenge handling of commercial aircraft overflights of Ukraine, Dutch crash probe

Lawsuits filed by relatives of some of the 298 people killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over embattled Ukraine are challenging the Dutch government investigation of the disaster and the Ukrainian government's failure to close its airspace.

The legal actions disclosed over the last week reflect the anger and frustration suffered by victims' loved ones who, five months after the tragedy, still have no definitive word on what caused the crash or who was responsible.

MH-17 disappeared from air traffic controllers' monitors when flying at 33,000 feet over eastern Ukrainian territory occupied by pro-Russia separatists on the afternoon of July 17. A preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board said the Boeing 777 exploded and rained down over eight square miles of farmland after being hit by "high-energy objects," consistent with being blown up by a missile.

The Dutch law firm of Van Den Goen Attorneys in Soest, southeast of Amsterdam, said in a web posting Friday that it had sent a letter on behalf of 20 family members of victims asking Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to transfer the accident probe to the United Nations for assignment to a special investigator. The lawyers accused the Dutch government of having "failed" to build a credible case for prosecution of those responsible for the plane's destruction.

Rutte rejected the criticism, saying the Dutch-led investigators had done all they could under the circumstances. The 100-plus forensic investigators sent to document evidence and secure the remains of victims for identification were barred from the crash scene by separatist gunmen for nearly two weeks, at which point the remains had decomposed in the withering July sun and looters and other passersby had contaminated the crime scene.

"In view of the safety situation and the weather, we cannot do anything more right now," Rutte said, referring to the crash site now blanketed with snow and still behind the pro-Russia rebels' front lines.

After all retrievable remains had been taken to a Netherlands forensics lab for identification and inspection, emergency response workers last month gathered up the wreckage and loaded it onto trucks for transport to a Dutch air base, where it will be partially reconstructed to aid the probe. A convoy carrying the recovered debris arrived at the Gilze-Rijen military base Tuesday.

A separate lawsuit filed by the German mother of an MH-17 crash victim seeks $1 million in compensation from the Ukrainian government for negligence in failing to close its airspace after at least five military aircraft had been downed in the region.

According to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, the plaintiff, identified only as Olga L., was alleging in the suit that Kiev authorities kept the airspace over the disputed territory open to commercial traffic to continue earning the lucrative flyover fees paid by international airlines. The mother was being represented by attorney Elmar Giemulla, who said in September he was working for three other families who lost relatives in the disaster, the Hamburg weekly said.

Ukrainian government forces and the separatists observed a one-day cease-fire on Tuesday, as proposed last week by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The "day of silence" was called as a test of their commitment to suspend fighting and attempt to negotiate an end to the conflict that has taken more than 4,300 lives since April.

A spokesman for the government in Kiev said attacks on their positions had greatly diminished over the previous 24 hours and that Ukrainian troops had refrained from answering the few incidents of shelling with return fire.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have said they hope to restart peace talks in the Belarus capital, Minsk, sometime this week.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sounded an optimistic note, telling the Sputnik news agency that the "day of silence" was well planned and largely respected, giving hope that the two sides can begin pulling heavy weaponry back from a line defined by the combatants during the Tuesday cease-fire.

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