Netherlands plans MH17 commemoration event

Malaysia Airlines crew members cry during a hand-over ceremony of bodies from Flight MH17. Photo / AP
Malaysia Airlines crew members cry during a hand-over ceremony of bodies from Flight MH17. Photo / AP

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says a national commemoration event will be held on November 10 for those who died when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine.

Rutte made the announcement yesterday after a closed meeting with hundreds of next of kin of victims of the disaster.

All 298 people on board died when the passenger jet was shot down on July 17. The plane heading to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam was shot out of the sky over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

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Rutte says the commemoration in an Amsterdam convention center "will be very carefully organised together with the next of kin."

Dutch authorities said last week they had identified 173 victims. Those aboard the plane included 195 Dutch nationals and 43 Malaysians.

Coffins carrying 20 of the Malaysian victims returned home last Friday to a country still searching for those onboard another doomed jet and a government battling the political fallout of both tragedies.

Watch: In sombre homecoming, Malaysia lays MH17 dead to rest

Video

The victims' bodies and ashes were given full military honors and a day of national mourning was declared, the first for civilians in the country's five-decade history.

Many people in offices in the nation of 30 million observed a minute's silence as the hearses were driven from the tarmac of Kuala Lumpur International Airport to private funerals. Some public trains in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, stopped operating.

The return of the bodies also represented a political triumph for Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose already shaky popularity ratings were hit by his handling of the still unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew in March.

"Today we mourn the loss of our people. Today, we begin to bring them home," Najib said in a statement. "Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Today we stand with you, united as one."


A woman cries as she waits at KL International Airport for the return of the victims' bodies. Photo / AP

Najib claimed personal credit for negotiating a deal with pro-Russian separatists for the return of all the bodies. Few details have been released over what the separatists were given in return, and some critics have said that the negotiations with people many regard as terrorists set a dangerous precedent.

"Everyone wants closure for the families, there is no question," said Bridget Welsh, a research associate at the National Taiwan University. "But on the other hand, they (Najib's advisers) saw this as an opportunity for him to look good. It was critical for the government to be seen as responsive and differentiate itself from the handling of MH370."

The victims were carried aboard a specially chartered Malaysia Airlines jet from Amsterdam, where they were taken from the crash site. Three had already been cremated. The coffins were individually lowered from the plane and slowly carried by teams of eight soldiers to waiting hearses.

Watch: Young son's premonition, hug before MH17

Video

"They were casualties of war, unfortunately, and the world community needs to work toward a solution to these conflicts," said Abdul Mueiem, a Malaysia Airlines pilot who attended the ceremony. "Everyone is feeling sad and depressed, but the important thing is that Malaysia Airlines is one big family, and we are together with the nation."

The repatriation was the first of the Malaysian passengers and crew on the flight. The government has said that the bodies of the remaining Malaysians would follow soon.

The country may never witness a similar homecoming for the victims on board Flight 370. The plane went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and is believed to have crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

After several surface and underwater searches have turned up nothing, a new underwater search is expected to begin in September and take up to a year to search 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles) of the Indian Ocean seabed.

Assuming the plane is found, the depth of the ocean will make recovery of any bodies difficult. Relatives might also prefer the bodies to stay where they are.

- AP

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