THE HAGUE — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday that his government would hold off assigning blame for last week’s missile strike that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, as it pursues its top priorities of recovering the victims’ bodies and conducting an independent investigation of the crash site in eastern Ukraine.
In a nationally televised address to a special meeting of the Dutch parliament, Rutte said the delays in recovering the bodies and launching the probe were “unbearable.” But he said finger-pointing would only provoke further delays. U.S. and Ukrainian government officials have identified pro-Russian separatists as the likely culprits in the shootdown.
“I realize that many people want us to establish the facts as quickly as possible so that we can state who was to blame,” Rutte said. “But I have to point out the dilemma that we are facing, which is that never, ever should assigning blame lead to diminished chances of recovering the bodies and carrying out an independent inquiry.”
His remarks came four days after Flight 17 was shot down, killing 298 passengers and crew members, including 193 Dutch citizens. Rutte has faced some criticism for his government’s response.
Rutte seemed to address that criticism Monday, noting all the challenges faced by investigators and government officials. He said he had “grave concerns” about the continued presence of armed groups near the crash site. Some bodies have been loaded into refrigerated rail cars in Torez, in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, but Rutte said it remained unclear exactly how many.
He said a team of Dutch investigators has reached the crash site but was still considering whether to go into the area.
Rutte said he is pushing for the bodies of all victims to be taken to the Netherlands for identification. He said he discussed this issue Sunday with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko.
“Talks on this are still ongoing,” Rutte said.
The prime minister spoke surrounded by 19 cabinet ministers and members of parliament. Some legislators questioned the government’s position, but they did not express anger or strong doubts about how the government has handled events.
The strongest criticism focused on whether delaying the hunt for what brought down the airplane might result in never assigning blame. That was the worry shared by member of parliament Michiel Servaes, who belongs to Rutte’s Labor Party.
Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, an opposition legislator, expressed a similar concern, saying he did not want to see the issue of blame get “snowed under” by other events.
After listening to the two-hour discussion, Dutch resident Karel Hesselink, 54, said he agreed with Rutte’s emphasis on getting the bodies back to Holland before delving into questions about Russia’s role in the crisis.
“First things first,” said Hesselink, who was visiting The Hague with his family. “What else can we do?”
“Just get the bodies back,” agreed Hesselink’s son, Sjoerd Hesselink, 23. “Then you can blame someone. No sense now to blame Russia.”