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Death toll mounts in Ukraine, MH17 investigation continues

By Agencies in Kiev / Donetsk, Ukraine | China Daily | Updated: 2014-08-04 07:34

Brutal fighting between government forces and rebels continued to take a deadly toll on civilians in east Ukraine on Sunday, as international experts once more combed woods and fields at the crash site of the downed Flight MH17.

Some 70 Dutch and Australian police investigators spent a third day combing through wreckage for more unrecovered remains of the 298 people killed when the Malaysian passenger jet was blown out of the sky over separatist territory almost three weeks ago.

After days of fierce fighting prevented experts from reaching the scene of the disaster, the Dutch-led probe has now bulked up to near full-strength with sniffer dogs and refrigerated ambulance vans brought in, scrambling to make up for lost time.

Search crews continue to turn up body parts and personal belongings scattered across some 20 square kilometers, and those leading the probe say it could take three more weeks, although 220 coffins have already been flown to the Netherlands for identification.

Around the rebel-held location, the boom of shellfire nearby - which forced a small crew of investigators to abandon part of the site Saturday shows that the conflict that has claimed over 1,150 lives since mid-April continues to tear apart the former Soviet state.

Ukraine's military reported that its positions in the region continued to come under heavy bombardment, including shelling it said came from across the porous border with Russia.

Government forces have made major gains over the past month and say they are getting close to cutting off the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk from the Russian border and a second insurgent bastion of Lugansk.

Kiev's military top brass has promised to stamp out the insurgency in the near future, but analysts warn that fighting could drag on as rebels have holed up in major cities and pledged to fight to the death. But it is civilians in the blighted region who are bearing the brunt of the violence. Nine civilians were killed in new fighting around the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, local officials said on Sunday.

Six people were killed in shelling and gunfire on the outskirts of Donetsk, deputy mayor Kostantyn Savinov said, and city officials said three were killed in the bombardment of Luhansk over the past 24 hours.

A Reuters reporter in central Donetsk said bombs echoed through the night, and witnesses said several buildings caught fire in the outlying Petrovsky district, including a school. The smell of smoke stretched as far as the city center.

Many residents of Luhansk have no electricity and some are without water, the city administration's press office said.



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