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Plane with first coffins of Malaysian airliner victims leaves Ukraine

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, Ukraine July 17, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev
An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, Ukraine July 17, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev

KHARKIV Ukraine (Reuters) - A Dutch air force transport plane carrying the first 16 coffins with the remains of victims of the downed Malaysian airliner took off on Wednesday from an airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for the Netherlands.

Honorary guards placed wooden coffins on the plane after a short and somber ceremony held on the tarmac before it took off.

All 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 perished when it was brought down last Thursday over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev is struggling to quell a pro-Russian separatist rebellion.

Many of the victims were Dutch and the Netherlands will carry out their identification.

At the ceremony, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said the downing of the plane was an "inhumane terrorist act" carried out with help from Russia.

Kiev will do everything in its power to bring those guilty to justice, he added.

A Canadian military transport plane is due to leave Kharkiv with 24 more coffins later on Wednesday.

Russia has blamed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for the crash because he refused to extend a ceasefire with the separatist fighters. Moscow denies supporting the separatists.

U.S. intelligence officials said on Tuesday Washington believed pro-Russian separatists probably shot the plane down "by mistake," not realizing it was a civilian passenger flight.

(Reporting by Sergei Karazy,; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska,; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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