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On MH17, US Complains of Limited OSCE Access, Reports of Bodies Moved

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 19 -- If a plane was downed in rebel held areas of Syria, how fast would access be? Would calls be made on Qatar, Saudi Arabia or Turkey, supporters of the rebels, to ensure access, ceasefires, even an end to the rebellion?

  On Malaysia Airlines fight 17, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on July 19 said: "We are deeply concerned by the Russia-backed separatists’ refusal to allow OSCE monitors safe and unfettered access to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.  Yesterday, the monitors were allowed only 75 minutes at the site.  Today, they were allowed less than three hours.  Thus far, the separatists have only allowed monitors to have limited access to a small area.  The site is not secure, and there are multiple reports of bodies being removed, parts of the plane and other debris being hauled away, and potential evidence tampered with.  This is unacceptable and an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve.
"It is critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible.  Russia-backed separatists committed Thursday to allowing full access to international observers and response teams and Russia supported an OSCE statement calling for the same.  We urge Russia to honor its commitments and to publicly call on the separatists to do the same."

  Back on July 18 in the UN Security Council Jeffrey Feltman, former a US official now UN political affairs chief, read-out a four page briefing.

  Feltman said “the UN has at this point no independent verification of the circumstances regarding the tragic crash.” But, he added, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “strongly condemns this apparently deliberate downing of a civilian aircraft.”

   This gave rise to a question: is Feltman or Ban Ki-moon saying the shooters-down of the MH17 plane KNEW it was a civilian aircraft?

   Inner City Press went to the day's UN noon briefing and asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq. Video here and embedded below.

   Haq said that he doesn't speak for Feltman -- strange -- then read from Ban Ki-moon's statement.

  Inner City Press asked why while Ban had planned to speak with Poroshenko on July 18, it would now by July 19. Haq cited logistics, and said there was still hope for July 18.

  On the Dutch Ambassador's request for UN assistance in returning victims' remains to the Netherlands, Haq said he was aware of the request, but not of any UN response.

    Feltman recited that “on July 13, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation issued a statement noting that one Russian national died and two were seriously injured when a Ukrainian army shell hit a residential house. Ukraine has rejected this claim.”

  The news, such as there was, in Feltman's briefing was that Ban has asked him to travel to Kyiv and Moscow. Is he viewed as impartial? At this point, perhaps the UN thinks, does it matter?

 Earlier on July 18 the Security issued a Press Statement; here is the text, now as sent out by the Rwandan presidency of the Council, still not (as of 10:42 am) by the UN Spokesperson's Office:

"The members of the Security Council expressed their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims, and to the people and Governments of all those killed in the crash in Eastern Ukraine on 17 July of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

  The members of the Security Council called for a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with the international civil aviation guidelines and for appropriate accountability.

  The members of the Security Council further stressed the need for all parties to grant immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident"

  Meanwhile earlier on July 18 tthe Syrian Coalition rebels put out a press release that they should be given "advanced weapons."

   Here is what the Syrian Coalition, until recently headed by Saudi backed Ahmad Al Jarba and now headed by Saudi backed Hadi Al Bahra, said:

Louay Safi, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition, said earlier that the connection between the Assad regime and ISIS has never been so intimately interwound as it is today with the progress being made by regime forces near Aleppo and that of ISIS in Deir Ezzor. These advancement have not been interrupted by a single clash between regime forces and ISIS, which proves the existence of full coordination between them.” Safi attributes the setbacks suffered by Syrian rebels to the reluctance of the friends of Syria group to provide the rebels with the advanced weapons that can tip the balance on the ground.”

  What about, “in the air”? The Syrian Coalition continues:

Furthermore, Safi agrees with the former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who blames the rise of extremist groups in Syria on the Obama administration’s hesitation to support the moderate opposition forces. The military situation is very critical, as regime forces are about to laid siege on Aleppo. But even if Assad’s forces recapture Aleppo, the crisis will not be over. (Source: Syrian Coalition)”

  So, what of the US announced plan for $500 million to “vetted” Syrian rebels?

Also on Syria, on July 14 when the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on humanitarian access to Syria, its Operative Paragraph 11 said the Council “affirms that it will take further measures in the event of non-compliance with this resolution or resolution 2139 (2014) by any Syrian party.”

 Afterward, Australia's Permanent Representative to the UN Gary Quilan emphasized at the media stakeout that resolutions are binding, that the Council had affirmed that it will take measures if not complied with by the parties. Video here, from Minute 2:10

  Inner City Press sought to ask a question about a statement inside the Security Council by Russia's Vitaly Churkin, and Quinlan agreed to take the question. Inner City Press asked Quinlan to respond to Churkin saying that the resolution “doesn't plan for automatism” in sanctions or the use of force, that any such steps would require the specific consideration of the Security Council and “convincing evidence.” Video of Churkin's statement here, from Minute 25.

  Quinlan replied that what Churkin said was correct, then said that while there would have to be a further decision by the Security Council about what measures to take, the decision that some measures would be taken has already been made. Video here from Minute 18.

Readers can draw their own conclusion how meaningful it is to claim that a decision to definitely act has been made, if another vote including veto powers is required.

Footnote: Asking this question was not easy. The first question was given to Voice of America; the second taken by the whip of the UN Correspondents Association's president, sometimes writing for the Huffington Post. She then tried to keep the UN Television boom microphone operator for giving the microphone to Inner City Press -- even as Ambassador Quinlan said, “Matthew... what Ambassador Churkin said was correct.”

  This UNCA, becoming the UN's Censorship Alliance, seems to believe it can block questions (as well as having tried to get Inner City Press thrown out after its reporting about Sri Lanka, here). The new (and resulting) Free UN Coalition for Access opposes this.

  To come full circle, acknowledging deft diplomacy by Australia and its co-leads Jordan and Luxembourg on this resolution, it is sometimes hard not to note the contradiction of Australia returning asylum seekers from Sri Lanka after only “reviewing” their claims on a ship. Inner City Press has asked Ambassador Quinlan about this, and we hope to have a story on the topic soon. Watch this site.


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