Ukraine Rebels Recover Bodies, Black Boxes

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Ukraine rebels have recovered the black boxes from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a rebel leader said Sunday.

Alexander Borodai also said the bodies recovered from the crash site in eastern Ukraine would remain in refrigerated train cars at a station in the rebel-held town of Torez until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile Thursday at as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. All those onboard the flight - 283 passengers and 15 crew - were killed.

It was immediately not clear Sunday if the rebels and the Ukrainian government were working together or at odds with each other on recovering the bodies.

A Ukrainian emergency spokeswoman said the armed rebels had forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and did not tell them where the bodies were going.  Ukrainian government officials, meanwhile, prepared a disaster crisis center in the government-held city of Kharkiv, expecting to receive the bodies, but those hopes appeared delayed or even dashed Sunday.

"The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive," Borodai said, speaking in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

The rapid-fire developments Sunday morning came after a wave of international outrage over how the bodies of plane crash victims were being handled and amid fears that the armed rebels who control the territory where the plane came down could be tampering with the evidence.

The U.S. embassy in Kiev issued a strong statement pointing to Russian complicity in arming the rebels, saying it has concluded "that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine." 

The rebels have been strictly limiting the movements of international monitors and journalists at the crash site, which is near the Russian border, and Ukraine's Emergency Ministry said its workers were laboring under duress, overseen by the armed rebels.

By Sunday morning, AP journalists saw no bodies and no armed rebels at the crash site. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts.

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Associated Press

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