HRABOVE, Ukraine — Armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and then loaded them onto refrigerated trains bound for a rebel-held city, officials and monitors said Sunday.
A separatist leader also said on Sunday the plane's black boxes have been recovered and will be handed over to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
"Some items, presumably the black boxes, were found, and they have been delivered to Donetsk and they are under our control," Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, told a news conference.
At the crash site Sunday morning, Associated Press journalists reported that they saw no bodies and no armed rebels. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts.
Borodai said the bodies recovered from the crash site would remain in refrigerated train cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, nine miles from the crash site, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.
"The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive," Borodai said, speaking in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
Borodai said he was expecting a team of 12 Malaysian experts and that he was disappointed at how long they had taken to arrive. He insisted that rebels had not interfered with the crash investigation, despite reports to the contrary by international monitors and journalists at the crash site.
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.
Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile Thursday at Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 33,000 feet above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny shooting down the plane. All those onboard the flight — 283 passengers and 15 crew — were killed.
Ukraine says Russia has been sending sophisticated arms to the rebels, which Moscow denies. The crash site is close to the Russian border.
Alexander Pilyushny, an emergency worker combing the crash site for body parts Sunday morning, told the Associated Press it took the rebels several hours cart away the bodies on Saturday. He said he and other workers had no choice but to hand over the bodies.
"They are armed and we are not," Pilyushny said. "The militiamen came, put the bodies onto the trucks and took them away somewhere."
Despite the restrictions seen by journalists and observers at the crash site, separatist leader Borodai insisted Saturday the rebels have not in any way interfered with the work of observers.
The U.S. has pointed blame for downing the plane at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner was probably downed by an SA-11 missile from rebel-held territory and "we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel."
An Associated Press journalist saw a Buk missile launcher in rebel-held territory close to the crash site Thursday just hours before the plane was brought down.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, worshipers at church services across the country prayed Sunday for the victims of the air disaster and their next of kin, as anger built over the separatist rebels' hindering of the investigation into the downing of the airliner.
The chairman of the Dutch Bishops Conference, Cardinal Wim Eijk, called on church-goers to "pray for strength and courage for the relatives" at services.
Amid the grieving, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is pushing for Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence over the rebels in eastern Ukraine to ensure a full investigation.
Rutte angrily condemned the rebels Saturday evening for interfering with the wreckage and bodies in Ukraine.
“This is totally disgusting. It is also serious because it undermines the investigation," he said.
Rutte called Putin on Saturday and had what he described as "an extremely intense telephone conversation" with the Russian president in which he urged him to exert his influence over the rebels and ensure there is a thorough, independent international investigation.
"I told him the time is running out to quickly show the world that he intends to help," Rutte said. "He must take the responsibility now with the rebels and show the Netherlands and the world that he is doing what is expected of him."
Best-selling Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf went further in a front-page appeal for decisive action to protect the crash site.
Under the Dutch headline, "Enough is enough," the paper called for NATO troops to be deployed in Ukraine to secure the wreckage and bodies in eastern Ukraine.
"At the same time, special forces must be deployed to track down the perpetrators of this mass murder and bring them to the Netherlands to face justice."
Also Sunday, the chief executive officer of Malaysia Airlines, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, arrived in the Netherlands and signed a condolence book at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport for victims of the crash.
The airline also announced it was "retiring" the flight code 17 of its Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flights "out of respect for our crew and passengers of the mentioned flight code" and replacing it from July 25 with the flight code 19.
The latest U.S. intelligence assessment suggests that more than one missile system was given to the separatists by the Russians in the last week or so. But both Russia and the rebels vehemently deny any role in downing the plane.
In a blistering article for the Sunday Times, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the attack a "direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them."
“We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action," he wrote.
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