6 December 2019
Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks to his countrymen and the world on national television hours after the crash of MH17. Photo: Bloomberg
Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks to his countrymen and the world on national television hours after the crash of MH17. Photo: Bloomberg

Blood on rebel hands?

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is grappling with a question writ large over an entire nation.


It is as much about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, missing for more than 130 days, as it is about MH17, destroyed in a ball of fire after a missile strike over Ukraine on Thursday.

When Najib appeared on national television hours after the MH17 downing, he called it a tragic day in a tragic year.

The families of the 298 passengers and crew have no word for it and the world has no clue what to make of the events that led to the two disasters by a single airline from the same country in a space of a few weeks. Only conspiracy theorists seem to know the answer.

On CNN this morning, the wife of an MH370 passenger sobbed as she recounted to host Erin Burnett how the latest tragedy rubbed an unhealed wound. She suggested there must be a link between the two incidents and called for a coordinated investigation.

There’s no evidence MH370 was shot down but the downing of MH17 is beyond doubt. The question is who fired the shot.

Interestingly, United States President Barack Obama first learned about the incident from Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose paramilitary forces supporting separatists in Ukraine have been accused of shooting down two aircraft in the past week.

At the time of Obama’s conversation with Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was blaming the separatists for the crash while denying any role by government forces.

As one might expect, the situation is fluid this early after the crash but what little information has emerged from the crash site confirms that a warhead was fired from a Soviet-era Buk missile launch system.

Ukrainian troops and rebel forces have such a weapons system which can only be operated by trained soldiers.

What the rebels don’t have is radar detection equipment that can receive signals from aircraft transponders to help them distinguish civilian from military planes. Ukraine, as any civil aviation country, has such equipment.

Which is why an initial transcript, released by the US, purporting to be from communication between the rebels and their Russian advisers is telling.

In it, rebels and advisers debate the identity of the aircraft and at some point, one is heard saying it was a mistake, apparently after a missile had been fired, according to CNN.

The black box will tell the story of MH17 when, or if, it is recovered. Unlike an ocean crash, in which the recovery is lengthy and tedious, this one happened on land and that land is controlled by rebel forces.

Independent investigators have yet to arrive on the scene but already, clearing of the debris field has begun, presumably under the direction of the rebels.

We shudder to think what will go missing next.  

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EJ Insight contributor