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MH17 downing trial coming

Four people, including a prominent eastern Ukrainian separatist commander, were charged with murder Wednesday in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine that killed 298 people.

A team of international investigators announced the charges, saying the trial will start in March 2020 at the Hague District Court, sitting in a high-security courtroom near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

The team said that even if the four may not have pushed the button itself to launch a Buk missile that downed the plane, they were implicated in the preparations of the launch, making it sufficient to charge them.

One of the suspects, Russian national Igor Girkin who led the separatist forces in Donetsk in 2014, dismissed the accusations.

The "insurgents did not shoot down the Boeing," he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday

Girkin has since been ousted from his post and now lives in Moscow. The other three people charged are Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, both who have Russian citizenship, and Leonid Kharchenko, who is a Ukrainian national.

When asked about the charges, another Russian national, Alexander Borodai, who was rebel leader in Ukraine's Donetsk region in 2014 when the plane went down, told the AP that he "knows" that it is "untrue" that the separatists are behind the plane's downing. Borodai now lives in Moscow.

The announcement of the prosecution team further pointed fingers at the Russian authorities and they called on further co-operation from the government.

They said that they did not ask for the extradition of the four since the Russian Constitution prohibits it.

Still, prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said "in the short term we will ask Russia to hand the summons to the suspects." He added that we will "ask for Russia to co-operate again with legal help."

Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce was among the dead, expressed relief that five years after the plane was blown out of the sky above conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, a trial could finally start next year.

"This is what we hoped for," Fredriksz-Hoogzand said. "This is a start of it. It is a good start."

She added that she did not expect any of them to appear for the trial, due to begin on March 9.

All 298 passengers and crew on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed on July 17, 2014, when a missile shattered the Boeing 777 in midair, sending debris and bodies raining down onto farms and fields of sunflowers.



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