Ukraine reportedly detains MH17 witness

MH17
The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable. (The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable)

A Ukrainian special operations unit arrested a former military commander of the pro-Russian separatists last week. The man, 58-year-old Vladimir Tsemach, served as commander of air defense in the city of Snizhne, near the site from where the missile was fired that shot down Malaysia airlines flight MH17 in 2014, the Volkskrant reports based on information from sources.

Tsemach was arrested in his apartment on June 27th, during an operation deep in rebel territory. The unit then smuggled him through the separatists' checkpoints - reportedly by pretending he was paralyzed - and into the Ukrainian side of the front line, according to the newspaper. 

The man is being charged with "forming a terrorist group or terrorist organization". But the Ukrainian authorities are likely interested in him because he may know more about who was responsible for downing flight MH17, the newspaper writes.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, 2014. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch, were killed. In June the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the team investigating the disaster, revealed that the criminal trial against the first four suspects in this case - three Russians and one Ukrainian - will start on March 9th next year. “We now have the information, have the proof, that the Russian Federation is involved in this tragedy, in this crime, one way or another.” Dutch Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said in the press conference. 

Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko are suspected of playing crucial roles in delivering the missile system that shot down MH17. They will be prosecuted for causing the crash and leading to the death of everyone on board. They are also facing charges of murdering 298 passengers of MH17.

Investigation by the Dutch Safety Board and JIT previously revealed that the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by a BUK missile system from the 53rd Anti-aircraft Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, fired from a field in Ukraine that was under the control of pro-Russian separatists at the time.

In addition to the JIT criminal investigation, the Netherlands is also in talks with Russia about state liability. The Netherlands and Australia officially held Russia accountable for its role in the MH17 disaster - providing the BUK missile system with which the passenger plane was downed. 

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