MH17 anniversary: Australian families attend unveiling of memorial for victims

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MH17 anniversary

Relatives vow to keep fighting for truth as 2,000 friends and relatives attend emotional ceremony near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport

Three years after the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile over Ukraine, friends and relatives of the 38 Australian citizens and residents who died were among the 2,000 people who attended the opening of a new memorial in the Netherlands to the 298 people who lost their lives.

The memorial at Vijfhuizen near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport features 298 young trees planted for each of those who died.

After the memorial’s emotional opening, attended by the Dutch king and queen, Sydney parents Meryn and John O’Brien visited their son Jack’s tree, a crab apple, as planes took off from the nearby airport the 25-year-old flew out of on 17 July 2014, returning from a European backpacking trip to resume his studies.

“It’s a big thing for us to come back to the airport that Jack left from,” Meryn O’Brien said. “We want Jack to walk back in the door but it’s a beautiful symbol,” she said of his tree, now hung with cards and ribbons sent by his grandmothers, friends, cousins and soccer mates.

O’Brien said her “beautiful child” was returning to Australia “to get on with his life” and he had been passionate about the things he cared about.

The commemoration came as international investigators continued their painstaking inquiry aimed at prosecuting those responsible for shooting down Flight 17 and killing all the passengers and crew.

A Dutch-led investigation, that includes Australians, has concluded that the Buk missile that downed MH17 was fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine from a launcher that had crossed the border from Russia.

The Russians insist the Ukrainian military downed the aircraft, and have denounced the investigation’s conclusions as politically biased.

The United States has urged other countries to cooperate in the investigation. The US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Washington also welcomed a recent decision “to grant jurisdiction to the Dutch courts for the prosecution of those responsible for this tragedy”.

“We have full confidence in the ability of the Dutch criminal justice system to conduct a prosecution that is comprehensive, objective and just,” she said.

Investigators last year said they had pinpointed 100 people they want to speak to who are believed to have been involved in transporting the Buk missile launcher or its use.

Nations involved in the investigation have agreed to prosecute any suspects in the Netherlands, home to nearly 200 of the victims. The European Union foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, called for international cooperation in the hunt for the perpetrators.

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