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Friday, July 25, 2014, 09:38

Rebels acknowledge having BUK missile

By Agencies in Moscow
Rebels acknowledge having BUK missile
An pro-Russian militant of the Vostok battalion armed with a rocket launcher stands guard on the side of the road on July 8, 2014 in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. (AFP)

A powerful Ukrainian rebel leader has confirmed that rebels had an anti-aircraft missile of the type Washington said was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and it could have originated in Russia.

In an interview with Reuters, Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, acknowledged for the first time since the airliner was brought down in eastern Ukraine on July 17 that the rebels did possess the BUK missile system and said it could have been sent back subsequently to remove proof of its presence.

Before the plane was shot down, rebels had boasted of obtaining the BUK missiles, which can shoot down airliners at cruising height. But since the disaster, the separatists' main group, the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk, has repeatedly denied ever having possessed such weapons.

"I knew that a BUK came from Luhansk. At the time, I was told that a BUK from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR," Khodakovsky said, referring to the Luhansk People's Republic, the main rebel group operating in Luhansk, one of two rebel provinces along with Donetsk, the province where the crash took place.

"Kiev knew that this BUK existed; that the BUK was heading for Snezhnoye," he said, referring to a village 10 km west of the crash site.

A senior Russian official called on Thursday on the United States to prove its claims that the passenger airliner was hit by a missile fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine.

"They've said US intelligence has technical data and satellite photos which show that the missile was launched from rebel-held territory. The question is where is this data," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in an interview with Russia-24 television.

US officials have in recent days said that satellite and other "technical" intelligence confirmed that flight MH17 was hit last Thursday by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by rebels.

Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a UN team to secure the crash site which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

International experts found more remains still at the crash site both Wednesday and Thursday, Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters in Donetsk on Thursday.

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