DEBALTSEVE, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities said Friday that at least 10 government troops were killed in an ambush by pro-Russian separatists in an area near the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but international inspectors nonetheless set off for a second day at the crash site.
Defense officials said in a statement that the attack happened during redeployment in the town of Shakhtarsk, which has been the object of sustained battles for several days. The statement did not specify when the attack occurred.
A convoy of international investigators headed out in the early morning for a visit to the wreckage site of the Boeing 777, but on a road that didn’t go through Shakhtarsk.
A small team managed to perform an initial survey of the area for the first time Thursday. For days, clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept investigators from reaching the area to find and retrieve bodies that have been decaying in the 90-degree (32 C) midsummer heat. Independent observers warned that there has been tampering with evidence.
The team was traveling Friday in 15 cars and one bus from their base in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. Their convoy was joined by three vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross when it reached the government-controlled town of Debaltseve.
Both sides in the conflict in east Ukraine have tentatively agreed to a cease-fire around the crash zone, although there is evidence that fighting was continuing in nearby locations.
Ukrainian forces have latterly focused their strategy on driving a wedge into an area between the largest rebel-controlled cities, Donetsk and Luhansk.
Shakhtarsk lies on one of two highways linking those cities and is about 20 kilometers south where the Malaysia Airlines plane came down.
The aircraft was brought down in a missile attack last month, killing all 298 people onboard.
It is believed up to 80 bodies may still remain uncollected at the crash site, which is sprawled in a broad area across fields between two villages.
Investigators working on the site say their first priority will be to recover human remains and retrieve victims’ belongings, so that they can be returned home.
Leonard reported from Kiev, Ukraine.