International investigators are looking into 'persons of interest' related to the Boeing 777 that was likely shot down over Ukraine almost a year ago. Although no suspects have been named, prosecutors claim optimism.
The inquiry into the plane crash which killed 298 is making "great strides" in finding the people responsible, Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told reporters on Tuesday.
"We are getting closer to compelling evidence," he said at a press briefing in Rotterdam.
Westerbeke heads a five-nation team investigating the fate of flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which authorities believe was shot down by a missile above Ukrainian battlefields on July 17 last year. Roughly two-thirds of the victims on board the Malaysia Airlines carrier were Dutch nationals, hence the Netherlands leading the investigation.
The incident sparked international outrage, with pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces denying responsibility and blaming each other.
'Buk' still most likely cause
The investigators still did not identify specific suspects, according to Westerbeke. However, the team has a number of "persons of interest," including potential "decision-makers as well as perpetrators," he said.
Discoveries so far point to the plane being shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile, a weapon used both by the rebels and the Ukrainian army. Despite it being "the most likely scenario," investigators have not ruled out all other possible causes for the tragedy, Westerbeke said.
The joint team of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium has interviewed more than 100 witnesses so far, Westerbeke said, adding that the probe is expected to last at least until the end of the year.
The five countries involved in the probe want to establish a UN tribunal to prosecute the guilty parties, a diplomatic source from the UN said last week.
On Tuesday, Westerbeke said it was "not so important" to him whether the proceedings were held before a UN tribunal.
"My greatest preference is a conviction with broad international support," he said.
Russia had already rejected calls for the establishment of a UN tribunal, calling it untimely and "counterproductive."
dj/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)