THE HAGUE – Prosecuting those responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew – 193 of them Dutch – is a key priority for the Netherlands, the justice minister has said.
The Boeing 777 was shot down over war-torn eastern Ukraine in July last year.
Kiev and the West have claimed that separatists, using a BUK surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia, were responsible, a charge denied by Moscow, which has in turn pointed the finger at Kiev.
"Now that we are at an advanced stage of the repatriation mission, the (criminal) investigation and prosecution will occupy a more central place," Dutch Justice Minister Ard van der Steur, said in a statement.
Van der Steur and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders met on Thursday on the sidelines of a cyber security summit in The Hague with delegates from countries affected by the disaster, including Malaysia and Australia as well as Ukraine.
The Netherlands has taken the lead in the investigation into the cause of the incident and identifying the victims of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
A preliminary report in September, which apportioned no blame, said the plane "broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside." A final report is due in the summer.
Also on Thursday Dutch investigators recovered more body parts from the crash site after searching a location that was previously inaccessible because of clashes between separatists and the Ukrainian army.
The fighting has lessened in intensity since a February ceasefire, paving the way for the investigators to continue their work, and Thursday's operation focused on Petropavlivka, about 10km west of Grabove where most of the debris fell.
"The mission was again able to recover human remains and personal effects at two sites," said Jean Fransman, a spokesman for the Department of Justice.
"Personal effects were given to the members of the mission by the local population: it was jewellery," the ministry added in a statement.
Last year's searches of the area had also turned up body parts, personal effects and pieces of the plane's wreckage.
The remains of all but two victims, both Dutch, have been identified. – AFP