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Murder charges over MH17 downing a "relief": Bishop

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Former foreign minister Julie Bishop says grieving families will be relieved charges have been laid almost five years after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down, despite Russia’s efforts to rattle the investigation.

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298 people including 38 Australians died on July 17, 2014, when their plane was downed as it flew over a part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.

“I welcome this progress in the investigation of the shooting down of MH17 with the naming of these four individuals to be prosecuted for their role in what was a despicable crime,” Bishop told ABC Radio on Thursday.

“And I think it will be a relief to the families who deserve answers as to how their loved ones died aboard that plane.”

Dutch prosecutors on Wednesday charged Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian Leonie Kharachenko over the mass killing in eastern Ukraine.

All four were officials in the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic and were allegedly responsible for the Buk missile launcher being brought into the area from Russia.

As foreign minister, Bishop led a push for the international community to have access to the crash site, located where Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed armed separatists had been fighting.

She also doggedly pursued justice for the victims and their families.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the charges against its nationals as “absolutely unfounded” and criticised investigators for using “dubious sources of information” and ignoring the evidence provided by Moscow in order to “discredit the Russian Federation”.

But Bishop said the team investigating the incident – which includes police from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and the Ukraine – have been “extremely thorough and diligent and independent.”

“Russia has long waged a disinformation campaign against the joint investigation team. There have been cyber attacks targeting the investigation,” she said.

“But I have full confidence in the joint investigation team’s independence.”

Having spoken directly with Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, Bishop said she has seen no evidence that would undermine what the investigations have found.

“At no time did any Russian leader, whether it be their ambassador, their foreign minister or President Putin, reveal to me any information that would dispute the findings of the joint investigation team,” she said.

Russia should now comply with a United Nations resolution that mandates states cooperate with the investigation, she stressed.

The four who have been charged will be tried – likely in absentia, because Russia and Ukraine don’t allow the extradition of their citizens – in The Netherlands on March 9.

Bishop is confident that even if the men don’t appear in court, the culmination of processes underway – including one aimed at holding Russia as a nation to account for the incident – will bring justice.

“I have confidence that through these complementary but separate processes, those responsible will be held to account.

“People boarding commercial planes must feel safe that their flights won’t be brought down by military force operating somewhere in the world.”

Bishop’s successor Marise Payne said the laying of charges are an important step in what will be a “long process”.

“It’s not going to be concluded overnight,” she told ABC’s AM.

“Nobody expects it to be quick and easy and we have to work within the confines of the legal systems in the Netherlands and in Europe.

“But most importantly we are working continuously with our partners in the joint investigation team to endeavour to bring these people to justice.”

-AAP

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